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 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.
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.
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, or 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.
- Flexibility: Businesses today need accountants who can adapt to the many changes guaranteed to come 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 a spreadsheet at some point in your career, regardless of the specific path you choose.
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What are hard skills in accounting?
Unlike soft skills, hard skills are specific and measurable; they can be learned in school, professional courses, or 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
- Data analytics
- Business intelligence software
- Risk and compliance
- Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software
- Cloud-based accounting
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 the accounting process. 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 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 your knowledge extends far beyond crunching numbers. An accountant who understands compliance software is one who can protect a company's most precious assets.
Dachondra Cason contributed to the writing and research in this article.