The accounting profession is a field that goes far beyond number crunching and financial statements. In it, there is constant, never-ending improvement. To excel in this profession, accountants need a diverse skill set that encompasses technical prowess, soft skills, analytical thinking, ethical integrity, and the ability to work effectively in teams. Let’s take a deeper dive to explore these five essential skills that every accountant should have, and strengthen, to succeed in their career.
Fundamentally, accounting is very much a technical discipline. Every accountant needs a strong foundation in various accounting principles and tools. As accountants get deeper into their careers, not all skills are necessary to master. Not an exhaustive list – here are a few, but essential, technical skills for accounting professionals:
- Financial Reporting: The ability to prepare compliant and accurate financial statements is a hallmark of the profession. In the United States, accountants should be proficient in the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) standard. The International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) are also important for those who deal with international clients.
- Taxation: Understanding tax laws and regulations is essential for advising clients or organizations on tax planning and compliance. There has been too much evolution regarding sales taxes and business state income taxes to ignore.
- Accounting Software: Proficiency in accounting software, such as QuickBooks, Xero, or industry-specific solutions, is crucial for efficient data management. You can’t have good records without a properly maintained accounting system. At Hare CPAs, we have an entire department dedicated to Client Accounting Services (CAS).
Soft skills are important – these skills help accountants communicate effectively and build strong relationships with clients, colleagues, and stakeholders. Some vital soft skills include:
- Time Management: Effective time management is essential for managing multiple projects and meeting deadlines simultaneously. One job or meeting done late can quickly spiral into successive obligations.
- Adaptability: Accounting professionals need to adapt to constant changes in regulations, technology, and industry practices. Changes that used to take place over a 10-year period now seem to take place over two years, or less!
- Communication: Accountants should be able to convey complex financial information in a clear and understandable manner. Miscommunication could be detrimental to a company in the form of penalties to governing bodies, or a distorted vision and set of goals for its team members.
Accounting professionals are often tasked with observing and analyzing financial data, identifying trends, forming a plan of action, and executing on that plan of action. Strong analytical skills are necessary for this critical aspect of the profession and can be the difference between being either an advisor or a trusted advisor. Key analytical skills include:
- Data Analysis: Proficiency in data analysis tools and techniques helps accountants draw meaningful insights from financial data. To do this effectively, one needs to be able to quickly observe all data points and filter out what’s relevant. Then, use proper techniques and software to analyze that information.
- Problem Solving: The ability to solve complex financial problems and recommend solutions is an asset. Using critical thinking to form a plan of action and disseminating the plan in a clear and concise manner to others is important. Then, monitoring and ensuring that the plan of action is being carried out effectively.
Accountants are entrusted with sensitive financial information, and ethical conduct is non-negotiable. Upholding high ethical standards is vital to maintain trust and credibility. At a minimum, credentials such as the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) demand a high level of ethics and integrity, at the cost of potentially losing licensure. Key ethical traits for accountants include:
- Integrity: Acting with honesty and transparency in all financial dealings is paramount. The easiest decision doesn’t make it the best one.
- Confidentiality: Accountants must safeguard sensitive financial data and protect their clients’ interests. In a world where cybersecurity threats are constant, we need to always be diligent when using technology. At Hare CPAs, we have monthly training on the latest scams and how to avoid them.
- Independence: Maintaining independence from clients and stakeholders is crucial for objective and unbiased financial reporting regarding audits and reviews.
Accountants work as part of a team, often collaborating with colleagues from various departments. Effective teamwork is essential to acting on the vision and achieving common goals. Some teamwork skills for accountants include:
- Interpersonal Skills: Building strong working relationships with colleagues fosters a productive and positive work environment. In addition to working physically at the office, at Hare CPAs we often have team-building activities to foster this sentiment.
- Collaboration: Accountants should be able to collaborate with professionals from diverse backgrounds to achieve financial goals and objectives – to be held accountable in addition to holding others accountable.
- Communication: Effective communication within the team ensures that everyone is aligned and working toward a shared vision. Accountants often have the task of quantifying the vision into data and follow-up points to track how the team is executing the plan.
Thriving in the ever-evolving world of accounting is no simple task. Professionals need a well-rounded skill set that encompasses technical expertise, soft skills, analytical thinking, ethical integrity, and teamwork. By developing, nurturing, and adapting these five core skills, accountants can excel in their careers – providing valuable insights and contributing to the financial success of their clients and organizations. They can be those trusted advisors that stakeholders and clients need.
At Hare CPAs, we dedicate extra training to these topics beyond the traditional continuing professional education requirements. Each staff member has custom-tailored training sessions to focus on what they need most to develop and maintain these skills. In addition to this, Hare CPAs encourages its staff to pursue certifications such as the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) credential.