How to Become an Controller

How to Become an Controller

If you want to serve in a high-ranking position in a company or organization, second in command to the CFO, becoming a controller might be a good goal for you.

A financial controller is a coveted and high-paying position of high rank in big or medium-sized companies. The controller, as its name implies, has a great deal of control of the financial comings and goings of a company. The controller is often second in command to the CFO (chief financial officer) of a corporation, and answers directly to the CFO and/or CEO. Their job is to control the financial transactions of a company and ensure that the company is minimizing loss and maximizing profit.


As a minimum, a controller needs a four-year (Bachelor’s degree) in finance, business, or accounting. They should be someone who is confident and skilled as a financial expert, and has strong leadership skills in this department. They tend to be what is known as a "math whiz" in school and seem to have no trouble keeping up with their own finances or staying "on budget."

Typical Education

The typical education of a financial controller is a Bachelor’s degree in finance, business, or accounting. There are really no shortcuts to this if one wants to move up the ranks. If you work directly with the CFO and are in charge of much of the finance decisions of a big company, an M.B.A. is strongly preferred.

Steps to Becoming a Controller

If you want to serve in a high-ranking position in a company or organization, second in command to the CFO, becoming a controller might be a good goal for you. So how do you begin? There are always different ways to climb a mountain. But here are some steps to plan for, as you make your way through the ranks to the "top of the heap."

Bachelor's Degree
More than 5 years
Find Related CareersSOURCE: US Bureau of Labor Statistics
1) Get your M.B.A. You may work as a controller for a smaller company or organization with only a four-year degree. But, if you want to make it to the top and work with the CFO and CEO of a big corporation, get the M.B.A. Completion of the graduate degree shows you are really committed to the career in a big way, since you invested so much time and money into it. It also better prepares you for the challenges that might come your way in big business and opens more doors than having only an undergraduate degree. But, of course, start with the Bachelor’s degree first.

2) Prepare by working as an accountant. Much of what a controller does has to do directly with the accounting side of business. Get good experience in accounting or work as an auditor in any capacity for 3 or 4 years, so that you can tell potential employers you have the experience to do the job.

3) Become an assistant controller. The closer you can get to the position you want, the better chance you have. Get to know both the controller of the company, as well as the outside auditor and learn what they do. This will help you learn skills and be familiar with the tasks you will be required to do later, if you are asked to move into the controller position.

4) Watch financial journals or publications for job openings. Be a magnet for financial job offerings by keeping your eyes on jobs as they become available. Also, always have a fresh copy of your resume if the opportunity comes up. Settle for a lesser position, if necessary, while you gain more skills to get the controller position you really want.

5) Work for the government first. Sometimes the place to start is with a government office. Government positions often pave the way for the expertise and experience you need to move into work in a corporation. For example, working as a government auditor or accountant in a government agency can prepare you for jobs in the corporate world later on. In addition, you can then use this experience on your resume and point out to employers that you know how the government works regarding the auditing process, etc. because you have done it! This will give you inside knowledge which might be perceived as valuable to a CEO.

As stated, there are many ways to move into the job you want. Watch the paper and internet for job listings, gain experience through various channels, and work on your important skills. Always think of your goal as something you work on one step at a time and work toward. You may get thwarted or thrown off a bit, but success is measured by how fast you get back on track and plow ahead. Start with a degree in your chosen field from a reputable college or institution. Then little by little, you’ll be like the ‘little engine that could,’ slowly plodding your way to the top!

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