What to Consider When Hiring a Controller

A controller is a person in charge of all of the accounting services in a business. Next in line from the CFO, the controller oversees areas such as:

  • Payables and receivables
  • Tax compliance
  • Financial statements
  • Payroll
  • Budgeting

In a small company, a controller's role may encompass all the details of these various areas and then some. In fact, sometimes a controller at a small company can look remarkably like a CFO or a bookkeeper depending upon the varying degree of financial acumen required.

Conversely, controllers at big businesses are generally in charge of other managers who handle the day-to-day operations of accounting and finance. Proper money management is crucial to success in a business of any size, so make sure that you hire the right person for the job by looking for these key characteristics.


The candidates you consider for controller should have at least a bachelor’s degree in some field relating to finance and accounting. A master’s degree is even better, as it suggests both a greater depth of knowledge and a focus on continued learning. Certifications like CPA that are issued and licensed by the state are also preferable. While accreditation alone isn’t a guarantee that a candidate will do a good job, it shows the kind of dedication that you should be looking for in such a critical position.

Years of Experience

A controller needs knowledge of more than just simple bookkeeping services.

Seek out candidates with at least ten years of experience in the financial sector, preferably focused on the industry in which your business operates. Controllers should be familiar with the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), a set of standards that guide the preparation of financial statements.

This kind of firm background is required when managing the complexities of business accounting. Keep in mind that extensive bookkeeping or even CPA experience doesn't necessarily translate into strong controller experience. All of these functions and their inherent abilities come with their own set of skills and strengths. While a bookkeeper may make a great controller, a tenured bookkeeper doesn't necessarily mean controller is the next step.


Familiarity with accounting technology is a must in the modern financial world. Ask potential controller candidates about their experience with the latest finance software and how they’ve implemented these systems in the past. You want someone who can look at the processes you’re currently using and streamline them to increase productivity and minimize error. They should also be comfortable teaching others how to properly use these systems. 

Managerial Skills

Since controllers are often in charge of large groups of other managers, the ability to supervise and coordinate many processes at once is essential. You need someone that you can trust to handle the financial workings of your entire business without error and who can work through any conflicts that arise between departments.

In a small business setting, the controller must be up to the task of coordinating all aspects of finance and accounting without needing someone to look over his or her shoulder constantly.

Creative Problem Solving

Given the complexity of business finance, it’s impossible to avoid running into occasional money problems. A good controller takes a creative approach to these setbacks, remaining level-headed and objective even if department supervisors are in a panic. Using creativity, critical thinking, and smart problem-solving skills, the controller provides solutions for the short term and works to create a long-term plan to prevent the same difficulties from arising in the future.

Work Ethic

The ever-changing world of business and finance requires a level of dedication that few people possess.

When hiring a controller, look for someone who isn’t averse to participating in professional development and continuing education. Those who are truly interested in accounting and business will look forward to the prospect of learning more about these industries and applying what they learn.

Whether you need help handling small business accounting or are trying to find a better way to manage your corporation’s expansive books, using these guidelines will help you find a controller who has all the right qualifications.