The terms accounting clerk and accounting assistant can be easily confused, but these two distinct job titles do not refer to the same position. There a number of differences in the requirements, job duties and compensation of accounting clerks and accounting assistants that set the two apart, and both are vital to the smooth and efficient operation of an accounting department. Understanding the differences between these two job roles can help you decide which job is better suited to your skills, experience and career goals.
Job duties are where the roles of clerks and assistants diverge most widely. An accounting clerk's job is relatively straightforward and consistent; clerks are responsible for entering financial transactions into various accounts on a daily basis. Accounting clerks for smaller companies may be responsible for entering a wide range of transactions, while clerks in larger companies may focus on a single type of entry, such as daily sales for numerous sales outlets or checks sent to settle accounts payable. An accounting assistant can be called upon to perform nearly any administrative task in the accounting department, including tasks normally assigned to clerks. In addition to recording transaction data, assistants can be responsible for processing payroll checks, sending statements to vendors, compiling financial reports and performing bank reconciliations.
Accounting clerks are often required to have a high school diploma or associate's degree, whereas accounting assistants are more often required to have a bachelor's degree in accounting or finance. Accounting clerk positions are entry-level positions, in which traits like a willingness to learn new skills and a strong work ethic are more important than formal education. Assistant positions require a more thorough knowledge of the accounting cycle and accounting techniques to perform the wide range of tasks that may be assigned.
Accounting clerks can find specialized roles in companies with relatively large accounting departments and larger payroll budgets. Smaller companies are less likely to hire accounting employees to post specific accounting entries, and are more likely to either employ or contract with a smaller group of full-service accountants. Accounting assistants can find work in smaller companies, as well as larger corporations. Assistants also can find positions in third-party accounting firms, performing a range of administrative tasks for company certified public accountants.
As entry-level employees, accounting clerks have nowhere to go but up in the accounting department. Successful accounting clerks can work their way into accounting assistant positions, specialist processing positions and management jobs in the accounting department. Due to their range of experience and skills, accounting assistants are uniquely suited to move into management positions, overseeing all aspects of an accounting department. Both clerks and assistants can work their way up to chief financial officer positions after years of hard work, dedication and post-graduate education, or can choose to start their own third-party accounting consultancies after gaining extensive experience.