I hate the proliferation of articles touting the 5 or the 10 best or worst of something. It’s click bait and so many times the things that comprise the list are of dubious value, included only to get a nice round number. You don’t see a lot of lists with 4 or 7 items. But, honestly, as I researched this post the same five things kept popping up. So please forgive the title and read on. It’ll be worth the click.
What’s most salient here is that soft skills dominate the list. It’s clear that firms – and, by extension, clients – no longer want simple number crunchers. They want finance professionals that can play a broader role.
It may seem vague but this skill was probably cited most consistently. Given that they deal with arcane and even esoteric subject matter, accountants need to be able to express themselves clearly (the saying “If you can’t explain it to a six year-old, you don’t understand it yourself” comes to mind.) And, as people find themselves un-siloed in an increasingly cross-functional professional environment, it’s almost paramount. But it goes beyond this or the ability to write a concise email.. As accountants are now being asked to play an expanded role within organizations, they’ll also need to be good speakers and presenters. It’s not only translating jargon. You need to be able to sell ideas and even be motivational in some cases.
General Business Knowledge
As stated earlier, accountants are being asked to play a broader role these days. One of the results of the Great Recession was rejuvenated focus on accounting and corporate compliance. Because of this and other things, employers want people who understand and are savvy about business. You need to know the larger implications of your work to your clients’ endeavors. So you need to become more of a business advisor in finance than simply a CPA.
You’re no longer just crunching numbers accurately and handing them off. You’re becoming part of the group you previously handed off to. They want your particular financial expertise to help them plot courses and provide support for key business decisions. You’ll need to be able to not only think strategically but creatively as well. When the path or solution is not obvious and things are stuck, clients will now want you to use your skills and knowledge to see the answer and find the best way to it. Put roughly, the successful accountant’s work will be more story problems than multiple choice – and the 2017 CPA exam has been changed to reflect this new reality.
This is probably the one thing on this list that most people would take for granted. You know: “I turn in the work on time with a smile. What else is there really?” A lot. This is probably the softest of the soft skills and toughest to train – if it can be trained at all.. The first step is being a good listener. On a personal level, who doesn’t like to feel they’re being listened to? It’s the basis for establishing rapport. Professionally, you’ll understand their problems better and provide better solutions as a result. You’re much more likely to spot opportunities, too. You also have to be comfortable bringing up problems or sensitive issues. It’s knowing how to handle a difficult conversation as they invariably come up.
Newsflash! You need to have proficiency in different software programs in order to work as an accountant. At a minimum you need advanced Excel skills as it’s the workhorse of the industry. That’s the bedrock and you’ll also want to get comfortable with new programs and tools as they get adopted by firms. The time they save is crucial because this frees you up to do more of the high-level thinking that will make you really valuable. But these days it goes beyond this into more technical areas. Given that accountants deal with perhaps the most sensitive of all client information it’s always been important to take digital steps to protect it. But now that accounting is moving to the cloud, it’s even more critical. SQL, ERP, and business intelligence programs are all getting used more. Going forward, getting proficient with these types of software will be one of the most important things you can do for your career. The more multi-faceted you are, the more indispensable you are.
The point of all this is to be seen as a partner, a member of the team, as opposed to just a vendor. When this happens you and your firm won’t be as vulnerable to being undercut on price, for example, because your capabilities are no longer seen as commodities. Clients have a hard time letting firms like this go.
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