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The Bookkeeper-Accountant

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Educational Preparation

In choosing workers for bookkeeping jobs, most employers hire people who have completed high school. In coming years, however, many of the jobs opening up in automated offices will require education beyond high school.

Most large high schools have a bookkeeping curriculum to be followed by those interested in vocational preparation for the bookkeeping field. In addition to required courses in English, science, and social studies, the student in a typical program also studies basic or business mathematics, typewriting, business law, business communications, office practice, and two years of bookkeeping.

Community colleges offer accounting specializations which prepare graduates to enter positions as bookkeepers, cost accounting clerks, and junior accountants. Principles of finance, economics, and introductory courses in data processing also are included in the curriculum.

Schools strive constantly to update their bookkeeping and accounting training programs to keep pace with the current trends in the job market. Traditionally, during the first year of training, stress is placed on the mastery of journalizing, posting, and trial balance components. A more recent program of the New York State Education Department is systems oriented and consists of four modules designed so that students who cannot spend a full year in bookkeeping may complete training modules for jobs in related areas. Module I deals with a typical system in a service business; Module II introduces specialized journals appropriate to a mercantile business; and Module III emphasizes principal bookkeeping subsystems that might be found in a multiple bookkeeper establishment. The student participates in a simulation of the tasks performed by entry-level bookkeepers, such as payroll clerk, accounts receivable clerk, accounts payable clerk, and cashier. In Module IV, the student is responsible for a complete set of books.

Another updated bookkeeping course now includes fundamental data processing instruction, including such topics as steps in data processing, flow-charting techniques, punched cards for preparation of payroll and sale of merchandise, use of magnetic ink character recognition (MICR) in banking operations, and storage of information.

An increasing number of large companies offer on-the-job training on bookkeeping machines to those who have learned book-keeping operations in schools. Other companies cooperate in work-study programs operated by the high schools, community colleges, and business schools in their locality. The student works for a salary during part of the day and attends related classes during the rest of the day.

Home study or correspondence courses in bookkeeping and accounting have been among the most successful of all courses offered by remote control. Many aspiring accountants, who for one reason or another could not go to college, have obtained very good training by means of home study courses.

The Bookkeeper in The Automated Office

The duties of many bookkeeping workers are likely to change considerably, as more firms make use of bookkeeping machines, electronic computers, and other modern equipment. Nevertheless, a thorough knowledge of basic bookkeeping procedures is still an absolute necessity. Also, since we are living in a numbers-oriented business world, another very important qualification of the book-keeper is an aptitude for working with figures and for concentrating on detail.

Automation changes not the bookkeeping process itself but the method of performing the process. The work of the bookkeeping cycle is adapted to machine methods. The entire bookkeeping and accounting cycle must be programmed into the machine in a manner that will produce useful financial statements and supplementary reports. It is important that those who operate automatic machines or who work with them in any way be familiar with bookkeeping principles.

How to Get Started

Beginning bookkeepers use the same sources of employment as other applicants for positions in the clerical field: the high school or college placement office, the state employment service, newspaper advertisements, suggestions of friends. They are interviewed by a representative of the personnel department and are later sent for an interview to the department in which the vacancy exists.

Clerical ability tests already described may be administered, or specific bookkeeping tests may be given. The National Business Entrance Test in bookkeeping is a very realistic one. The candidates are given a set of books containing entries already partially made; they continue entering the transactions in the proper manner and obtain certain interpretive data from the journals-just as they would continue the work of their predecessors if they took the position.

Many students who have taken part in cooperative programs while in school may find permanent positions in the firms in which they worked as students.

The Working Situation

The bookkeeper should have good eyesight, for eyestrain is the principal hazard of the job. Additionally, bookkeepers should develop accurate and legible handwriting and be able to operate the most frequently used bookkeeping machines. Bookkeeping machine operators need manual dexterity and good coordination of eye and hand movements. The hours and conditions of work are similar to those found in other clerical occupations. The work is done in clean surroundings, and good working conditions generally prevail. Along with other office workers, bookkeepers receive fringe benefits such as health insurance and retirement pension.

Bookkeeping positions provide a worker with the chance to learn the details of business operations. With so much of the work being done on automated equipment, however, it is extremely likely that each bookkeeping employee will be handling only one, or a few, of the many kinds of work necessary to keep a complete set of books. Thus, it may not always be possible to learn the overall picture necessary for complete understanding.

The greatest disadvantage of bookkeeping work, especially in the lower positions, is its lack of variety and its monotony. The extreme specialization in the special bookkeeper's job makes the work routine in nature and definitely unchallenging. Another disadvantage of bookkeeping work is the difficulty of promotion to the accounting level. A bookkeeper's job may be the door to an ac-counting position only for the person who is interested in attending college at night or on a part-time basis.


Salary statistics for 1980 compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that accounting clerks do well. The monthly salaries ranged from $734 to $1,280. On the average, the beginning salary was higher than that paid to beginning file clerks but less than beginning secretaries or stenographers. Experienced accounting clerks in level IV earned more than comparable level file clerks and typists; however, the salary was the same as a level IV secretary. Interestingly, an accounting clerk at level IV earns $18 per month more than a beginning accountant. It is important to mention, however, that an accountant's salary reaches $3,358 per month on the fourth level. A look at civil service figures showed that bookkeepers right out of high school were earning $618 per month. The average salary for general accounting clerks in government was $1,233 per month.
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