When preparing for a future career in accounting, it is important to consider both hard and soft skills. Examples of hard skills include bookkeeping, data entry, and tax preparation. Employers can test them easily and evaluate how skilled a job applicant is in a very concrete way.
Soft skills are more difficult to measure, but they’re no less valuable. Leadership, communication, and organization are all outstanding skills to have in one’s career as an accountant. Lou Adler, CEO of the Adler Group, notes that, “The squishiness of this [term] minimizes their importance.” Though these skills are referred to as “soft,” they’re anything but when it comes to impressing employers in the modern marketplace.
Read on to learn:
- Why soft skills are important.
- Which soft skills are valuable to accounting.
- How to improve critical soft skills for a stronger resume and better job performance.
Soft Skills in Accounting Boost Performance
Success in accounting and other business areas isn’t entirely reliant upon hard skills like budgeting and math. In fact, soft skills are critically important to employers when it comes to deciding who to hire.
Alex Konanykhin, founder of Transparent Business, notes that “Most employers and startups go wrong by assuming that intelligence and hard skills are what make or break a business. In reality, choosing people who are emotionally intelligent, willing to work on themselves, and able to relate to others is a major component in building a successful business and workplace environment.”
Soft skills have proven to be a more accurate predictor of success. A study by the Stanford Research Institute International and the Carnegie Mellon Foundation found that 75 percent of long-term college and career success is based upon the development of soft skills like self-control. Technical proficiency is easy to come by, while skills like reliability, communication, and planning can be more challenging to find. Focusing on certain soft skills can change a student’s career outlook in accounting.
Targeting the Right Skill Set
Developing the right soft skills will help accountants fill their resumes with relevant achievements and compelling points. The importance of having a strong set of soft skills is well established, but which ones should accountants focus on first? Look to the following soft skills when choosing which classes, seminars, and resources to pursue to boost job performance as an accountant. New England College’s online Master’s in Accounting program focuses on a number of soft skills like these that are relevant to a career in accounting.
While accountants may perform a good deal of work independently, they also need to be able to explain their methodology and results to others. Accounting is primarily a left-brained activity, as it’s very linear and logical. If one is left-brained, they may find that their communications with others follow a similar pattern. Left-brained individuals are more inclined to use lists and outlines in their explanations. When communicating with a right-brained audience, however, one might need to brush up on their communications skills.
Learn to communicate effectively with a variety of people, from coworkers who can jump in and understand pages worth of number-crunching in a moment to clients who struggle to follow simple math. Job applicants who can demonstrate the ability to adjust their communication styles to suit their audiences will display a coveted skill that employers can find great value in.
Motivational skills elicit the desired response from another individual. An accountant might apply motivational skills to others in his or her department to encourage group efforts, or the accountant could simply use them on an individual level to keep pushing through accounting reports even when they become monotonous. Employers look for individuals with the ability to identify motivators and use them appropriately to keep projects moving forward.
Identifying and resolving problems is one of the key responsibilities of a good accountant. It’s the accountant’s job to pinpoint troublesome areas where the numbers aren’t as clean or favorable as they should be. With the proper self-motivation and creativity, one can then leverage his or her problem-solving skills to pinpoint effective and innovative solutions.
It’s important for accountants to be able to demonstrate strong problem-solving abilities. With the right education, students can obtain effective tools and strategies for approaching and resolving problems as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Critical thinking skills give accountants the essential ability to accurately evaluate the information in spreadsheets, financial statements, and other key documents. A core part of this job is interpreting information accurately, which is what critical thinking allows one to do. While an accountant can gain the hard skills necessary to crunch the numbers, only a soft skill like critical thinking offers the finesse needed to put them together well.
Learning new things through fresh college courses is an effective way to hone critical thinking skills. Students have the opportunity to analyze new information, practice active listening and interpretation, and interact with others while absorbing the information. Accounting master’s degree students can practice developing foresight and predicting the outcome of certain financial decisions, using their most recent lessons to give them a deeper understanding of accounting issues. Actively working on critical analysis of information can change the way one looks at things in the work environment and better prepare accountants for advancement in the future.
It’s easy to think of accounting as a primarily solo career, but professional accountants interact with a wide range of people on this career path. From the superior who has a different interpretation of the numbers to the client who’s unhappy with the spreadsheet that’s been produced, there are many opportunities for an accountant to use interpersonal skills like conflict resolution.
Those who are good at conflict resolution know how to step back from a problem and evaluate it calmly. They will then seek out solutions that provide something of value to everyone involved. Honing conflict resolution skills helps accountants become valuable assets in any professional environment.
Leadership skills are valuable in any field, but they can be of particularly good use in certain accounting professions. The strong presence that’s commanded by a good leader inspires trust and confidence in those around him or her. This is important for clients, customers, and co-workers who need to feel comfortable with the financial decisions that their accountant is making. Good leaders are also skilled in communication.
Accountants can strengthen leadership soft skills with management courses, seminars, and retreats. Learning new leadership strategies will help professionals find the right approach for the unique individuals in their work environment.
Accountants are often responsible for juggling several projects at once, such as invoices, budgets, and tax documents. Organization is key to make sure that reports are accurate, spreadsheets are well-maintained, and taxes are filed on time. Accountants can’t let a heavy workflow inhibit their productivity. With the right organizational strategies in place, accountants should have no problem managing busy seasons like tax time with smooth professionalism. Employers look for accountants who can maintain outstanding organization at all times.
Accounting professionals can practice organizational skills throughout their college careers. It’s best for individuals to be mindful of times when they’re lagging in this area and getting to projects at the last minute. Developing smart strategies for staying on top of it all now will continue to serve one well into the future.
Accountants need to think ahead to make sure that the books are balanced and there are always enough funds in place to cover upcoming expenses. Failure to think ahead can spell disaster in this profession. The best accountants are always thinking several steps into the future and making recommendations that don’t only solve current issues but also help to sidestep potential pitfalls in the future.
By planning well throughout the year, accountants can make projects like taxes run more smoothly and quickly. Hard accounting skills provide the knowledge that’s necessary to know what to look for, while honing soft skills like staying organized and looking ahead will allow one to make the most of all available information.
Understanding the emerging importance of soft skills will help accountants ultimately focus on the right educational opportunities. While it’s crucial to master hard technical skills, understand that competition is stiff among people who can balance the books and accurately file taxes. It will ultimately come down to more intangible factors in the job hunt.
Those who are looking to start brushing up on soft skills should consider pursuing an accounting degree online. Going back to school to earn an online Master’s in Accounting from New England College may provide the opportunity to focus on communication, leadership, and organizational skills. Accountants can pursue soft skills successfully while adding hard skills to their resumes as well. Take a well-rounded approach to best stand up to the competition for that coveted job.