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Updated Apr 04, 2024

How to Improve Your Accounting Skills

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Jennifer Dublino, Contributing Writer

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Today, businesses of all sizes look for accounting professionals with the perfect balance of technical accounting skills and interpersonal, professional skills to meet their needs. There is no denying the importance of having skilled accountants and bookkeepers working in or for your business. Whether you’re an entrepreneur managing your books on your own or an established professional seeking employment, quality accounting skills are crucial to maintain the financial health of your business or advance your career.

If you are a professional accountant, you have the basic skills but may need to brush up on new regulations and technology. If you are a businessperson who is handling accounting or just wants a better understanding of accounting, you may want to take a basic accounting course to sharpen your skills.

How to improve your accounting skills

Take an introductory class online.

Learn the basics of accounting (or refresh your knowledge) by taking an introductory accounting course. You can find courses like this at online universities such as Harvard Business School Online or the University of Phoenix. Such classes are also offered on online learning platforms like Udemy and Coursera.

Dive into a specific accounting topic.

For those who are already accountants or have a good understanding of the basics, it might be helpful to learn more about a specific topic within accounting to deepen your skills. For example, you may want to take a course in accounting for decision-making to help you use financial statements to inform strategic decisions. 

You don’t necessarily need to take an entire course on a topic of interest; you could read a book or view a webinar. This can help you broaden your knowledge and learn how to apply it to accomplish certain objectives without devoting as much time as a course would require.

Enhance your soft skills.

To be a truly effective accountant, soft skills such as communication, time management and problem-solving are a must. Your human resources department may give training classes in these types of skills or be able to guide you to other resources. Business coaches can help in this area and there are also online courses and books on soft skill development.

Keep your knowledge of accounting standards up to date.

Although you probably have already learned about GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles), what you may not know is how these principles have been updated since you originally learned them. To keep up to date, professional accountants can participate in continuing education through industry organizations such as the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA), the Corporate Finance Institute (CFI), Financial Executives International (FEI) and the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA). Organizations like Thomson Reuters also offer online courses, webinars, seminars and conferences.

FYIDid you know

In the past few years, accounting rules for revenue recognition, lease accounting and financial instruments, among others, have changed.

Learn how to get the most from accounting software.

Whether you want to unlock all of the functionality of your existing accounting software or are interested in upgrading, learning accounting software capabilities can make your job easier. Use your existing software program’s built-in tutorials or watch videos posted by the software company on its website or YouTube. If exploring new accounting software, contact the sales team and ask for a demonstration. Be sure to ask about any training that they can provide new clients. 

Get accounting questions answered.

Perhaps you are a young accountant or bookkeeper and have some questions about accounting. If you work at an accounting firm or in an accounting department, you may want to ask a colleague, mentor or your supervisor. You can also join an accounting group to network on LinkedIn or to tap into group members’ expertise.

Learn more about the industry.

Professional accountants mostly know about accounting. However, if you are working for a company, it can be helpful to know more about its industry. Talk to executives in different departments to get a fuller understanding of the company’s business and forces that impact it. Having knowledge about the market, demand trends, vendors, regulations and marketing initiatives that impact the company offers a big picture so you can make strategic recommendations that will benefit the company.

What are the top skills of a great accountant? 

Modern accounting requires much more than crunching numbers and balancing ledgers. Accountants have the difficult job of balancing technical hard skills with interpersonal soft skills to help their businesses grow. These are the soft and hard skills you need to be a great accountant and the skills to look for when hiring an accountant.

What are soft skills in accounting?

Soft skills are less tangible and more difficult to measure than hard skills; they are usually learned through experience. Here are the top soft skills every accountant needs: 

  • Communication: Today’s accounting and finance professionals aren’t just expected to crunch numbers; they need the ability to tell the story behind the numbers in an interesting, easily understandable manner. This is especially true when communicating with colleagues or clients who are unfamiliar with accounting terms. On top of excellent verbal communication skills, accountants must have strong business writing skills to compose clean, concise, and accurate emails, reports and documents.
  • Organization: Accountants must be highly organized in order to manage multiple accounts and clients, meet company deadlines, and follow proper guidelines. Accountants deal with a significant amount of paperwork, and a disorganized individual may find it difficult to file sensitive documents correctly or on time.
  • Time management: Most accountants work on multiple projects at once, which means their time management and multitasking skills must be exceptional. Furthermore, time management is crucial during tax season, when accountants must go above and beyond to meet their companies’ and clients’ needs.
  • Problem-solving: Every organization encounters financial discrepancies that must be accounted for. Great accountants have critical-thinking and problem-solving skills to address financial errors and think creatively to solve complex issues. 
FYIDid you know

Problem-solving skills are just as crucial for an accountant as technical expertise and hard skills are, as even small financial discrepancies can have huge repercussions for businesses in any industry.

  • Flexibility: Businesses today need accountants who can adapt to the many changes guaranteed to occur in any organization. As technology and practices evolve, accountants must be prepared to learn and master the changes almost immediately. Accountants are also expected to stay abreast of in-house changes, such as new platforms and fluctuations in project workloads, in addition to those resulting from new rules and laws.
  • Industry knowledge: While large organizations often provide training in various areas, accountants are expected to have a broad range of industry knowledge. As an accountant, you should have enough expertise regarding ledgers, public offerings and U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission reports to add value to an organization.
  • Analytical skills: Organizations expect accountants to be extremely detail-oriented, for obvious reasons. Accountants are always thoroughly reviewing lengthy reports. The ability to conduct reviews quickly and accurately is crucial. One accounting error could result in major discrepancies and inconsistent results.
  • Spreadsheet proficiency: If you haven’t mastered Microsoft Excel yet, it’s time to enroll in a course. Spreadsheets are a staple in the accounting industry, and mastering them is a great way to stand out from the competition. As an accountant, you can expect to use top spreadsheet software at some point in your career, regardless of the specific path you choose.

What are hard skills in accounting?

Unlike soft skills, hard skills are specific and measurable; they can be learned in school, professional courses and books. Today, hard skills in accounting include solid tech skills. [If you’re looking for help with your accounting tasks, check out our reviews of the best accounting software for businesses.] 

Staying on top of technology trends, especially in fintech, becomes more important every year. While every accountant is expected to have the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and Microsoft Excel nailed down, employers look for more advanced skills and expertise in the following areas: 

  • Microsoft Visual Basic
  • QuickBooks 
  • Data analytics
  • Business intelligence software
  • Risk and compliance
  • Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software
  • Cloud-based accounting 
TipBottom line

QuickBooks is far and away the most popular accounting software. All accountants should master this program. Learn more in our review of QuickBooks.

While people may assume every accountant is an expert in every financial field, individual accountants can focus on certain areas of expertise. Businesses often look for specific experience or industry knowledge that will fill a gap within their organization. 

For example, government accountants are expected to understand local, state and federal regulations, while management accountants should have a strong foundation in corporate finance. Hiring managers will look for these specific traits when interviewing candidates for an accounting position.

What are specialized skills in accounting?

Specialized skills are specific fields of expertise within your industry. Whether you gain them through experience or courses, they are one of the best ways to get a leg up on the competition. In today’s digitized world, many of these skills center on certain types of software. Depending on your specialty, mastering these software types can give you an edge over your peers.

  • Financial analysis software: Organizations often use this type of software to help automate accounting processes such as accounts payable. While it’s common for large companies to train employees on their preferred methods for financial analysis, specialized knowledge would be an excellent talking point in an interview with any hiring manager. Knowledge of this software is an excellent addition to your accounting skills, as it means you know how to simplify your work and get through reports at a rapid pace.
  • Tax prep software: For both individuals and businesses, tax season can be quite a challenge. An accountant who has mastered tax prep and is well versed in using tax prep software is an invaluable asset to any organization. Not only is this accounting skill a great addition to your resume, but it also eliminates the need for your organization to outsource the task, which can save a lot of money.
  • Compliance software: Every industry has its risks. Learning compliance software can really help you stand out from the crowd, because it shows that your knowledge extends far beyond crunching numbers. An accountant who understands compliance software is one who can protect a company’s most precious assets.

Sean Peek and Dachondra Cason contributed to this article. 

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Jennifer Dublino, Contributing Writer
Jennifer Dublino is a prolific researcher, writer, and editor, specializing in topical, engaging, and informative content. She has written numerous e-books, slideshows, websites, landing pages, sales pages, email campaigns, blog posts, press releases and thought leadership articles. Topics include consumer financial services, home buying and finance, general business topics, health and wellness, neuroscience and neuromarketing, and B2B industrial products.
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