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Your All In Guide To Becoming A Financial Controller

The Controller plays a key leadership role in the accounting and finance department. To become a controller, you’ll need a strong knowledge of accounting principles and procedures, can whip up and share reports with ease, and have the organizational skills to oversee the operations of the accounting department. In large companies, controllers often report to the CFO and manage a number of key accounting staff. Controllers in smaller companies might report directly to the CEO and have a significantly smaller staff to oversee.

Financial Controller Responsibilities:

  • Create accurate financial statements, including income statements, Balance Sheets, and Statement of Cash Flows
  • Own the monthly close process, including journal entries and reconciling various accounts
  • Assist in external audits of financial statements with third party accounting firms
  • Drive insights by researching and interpreting trends in financial data
  • Develop the annual budget process and any interim forecasting changes
  • Support business leaders in completing special projects, ad-hoc reporting, and strategic analysis as requested
  • Work closely with in-house engineering teams or external consultants to implement financial systems such as NetSuite, SAP, Concur or Expensify

Financial Controller Qualifications:

  • BS/BA & MBA in Finance, Accounting, Economics
  • CPA
  • 10+ years of professional experience in accounting
  • Experience raising venture capital equity and venture debt
  • Relevant understanding and experience with US GAAP
  • High degree of organization, initiative, attention to detail, and ability to manage deadlines
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Enterprise-level software planning systems
  • Big 4 accounting experience

Financial Controller Salary

Financial Controller Salary New York  Average: $140,000

Financial Controller Salary Range: $85,000 – $230,000

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What Do Financial Controllers Do?

You know the basic responsibilities that being a Controller entails, but what will you really be doing on a day-to-day basis in this role? While specific Controller duties depend on the size and needs of each company, this position will likely involve the following tasks.

Financial Reporting & Auditing

Controllers are not only responsible for monitoring a company’s overall finances, but they are also relied on to establish and enforce internal reporting controls. Often, Controllers work with external auditors to ensure the use of proper reporting standards.


Controllers prepare budgets through collecting, analyzing and consolidating financial data.  In this role, a Controller’s main priority is to summarize trends, keep an eye on variances and look into budget deficiencies.

Monitoring Tax Legislation

Businesses rely on Controllers to monitor upcoming legislation that could affect operations and how the company is taxed. The Controller needs to ensure that all necessary licenses, permits and operating procedures are obtained and followed.

Hiring & Managing Staff

Controllers are usually department leaders, meaning they are likely part of the recruiting, hiring, and training process for new accounting team members. The Controller is responsible for everything that goes into managing a team, including motivating, developing and disciplining staff.

Implementation of Financial Systems

Controllers are often the company lead as systems are being implemented at a company.  It takes more than just the technological know-how to implement effective financial systems. It also requires a deep understanding of all aspects of finance function and the business itself.  This is where the Controller is expected to play a large role. They are generally expected to develop policies and procedures and define roles and responsibilities for an effective implementation.

Career Training & Education

Controllers are expected to continue enhancing their finance, leadership, and industry knowledge throughout their careers. Maintaining certificates and attending trainings should be considered job priorities.

Common Finance Controller Interview Questions

Controllers are looked to for their budgeting expertise, ability to interpret financial data, attention to detail, and leadership skills. Prepare to showcase your knowledge and experience in these areas during an interview. Use these common Controller interview questions to help you land your next job.

  1. What do you consider the most important factors to take into account when developing a financial strategy?
  2. Tell me about a time you identified a financial opportunity in your company.
  3. What types of reports and presentations have you developed for executive managers in the past?
  4. Tell me about a time when your opinion was challenged in a team setting.
  5. What kind of reporting software are you familiar with?
  6. How have you helped junior-level staff grow their careers?
  7. What is your approach to hiring financial staff?
  8. Tell me about a time you had to persuade an executive team to make an important financial decision.
  9. How do you monitor and evaluate your team’s performance?
  10. How do you resolve conflicts that arise from stakeholder pushback?
  11. Tell me about a time you had to motivate your team to complete a complex project under a tight deadline.
  12. What are some financial strengths and weaknesses of our industry?
  13. How have you increased revenues for previous companies you’ve worked for?
  14. What is the most challenging financial project you’ve worked on and how did you go about completing it?
  15. Tell me about a time when you improved the efficiency of reporting financial information or the quality of financial reports.
  16. How do you introduce new technology to your team?
  17. Are you experienced in setting up internal reporting controls? If so, give an example of an accounting or financial reporting control you implemented.
  18. How do you relay complex financial information to team members outside of the finance department?
  19. How have you reduced expenses for previous companies you’ve worked for?
  20. What educational steps have you taken toward advancing your career?

How to become a Controller

Maybe you have the necessary education, certificates, and accounting experience to take on a Controller role, but do you have what it takes to succeed in this position? While accounting roles are typically well-suited for organized, factual, detail-oriented individuals, Controller positions require the ability to dive deeper into the numbers and act as both a financial interpreter and guide for executive teams.

If you’re considering a Controller job, work on obtaining the soft skills needed to be effective in the role. Here are five qualities employers desire in a Controller:

  1. Strong Leader

As financial team managers, Controllers need to be able to lead effectively. Not only does this mean directing team tasks and goals, but it also requires the ability to motivate and develop the finance professionals they manage. Successful teams are led by those who understand how to manage both projects and people.

  1. Problem Solver

A Financial Controller needs to be both a reactive and proactive problem solver. They need to be able to detect budget discrepancies and deficiencies and work to fix them. Controllers should also be focused on making improvements in reporting and the general financial direction of the business.

  1. Highly Motivated

Controllers need to have a strong work ethic and the drive to help the business succeed, even if it means going above and beyond what is asked of them. A Controller should be innovative and eager to make changes that will lead to financial success.

  1. Effective Communicator

The Financial Controller is responsible for interpreting dense information and communicating it in a way team members across departments can understand. This means possessing the ability to give reports and forecasts in non-technical terms. A Controller should also be able to build a strong relationship and communicate effectively with the CFO and other department leaders.

  1. Lifelong Learner

Controllers should be innately curious and excited to advance their education. This includes maintaining industry certificates as well as improving leadership and management skills. Financial Controllers should become excited at the idea of enhancing any skillset that will make them better at what they do.

There are many paths to become a controller. At Vested, we’re here to help you choose the right one.

This guide to Financial Controller was created by the Vested team. If you are interested in a Controller role, please join us to get matched with opportunities at one of our partner companies.