Applications / career development

The skills required to be a successful accountant

You’ll often hear recruiters talking about hard skills and soft skills. While hard skills such as qualifications and technical abilities are typically easier to teach in a traditional setting, soft skills are just as crucial for well-rounded employees. Soft skills are those social and personality skills, such as time management, communication, and a can-do attitude.

Desirable ‘soft’ skills for an accountant

While soft skills can be taught, they’re often also intrinsically linked to your personality. It just takes experience and practice to bring the right ones forward. Soft skills like diplomacy and patience can be particularly tricky sometimes. The good news is that self-awareness (and an ability to listen closely to feedback!) can help you develop those that don’t come naturally to you

Problem-solving…

Analytical thinking and a critical approach are crucial for any accountant. To audit accounts, monitor financial patterns, spot anomalies, and generate realistic forecasts, an accountant must be able to analyse financial information and from multiple angles. This allows accountants to provide their clients with well-founded advice to help protect cash flow and improve spending habits. They’ll also need to use this soft skill to find solutions to one-off problems (e.g., transaction errors) and recurring issues (e.g., flawed bank reconciliation).

Time management

One of the biggest pluses for businesses working with accountants is help managing important deadlines. This could be anything from submitting Self Assessment tax returns to filing a VAT return. Missing these deadlines can incur hefty penalties from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), which can be particularly crippling for a start-up or small business. A great accountant will apply meticulous time management to ensure that their clients never miss any of these crucial deadlines. They’ll also use this soft skill to make sure their clients are adhering to any new rules or regulations that might be introduced with a compliance deadline. Plus, an accountant knows how long the work is likely to take, hopefully sparing clients from the late-night terror of working through receipts.

Communication…

A huge part of an accountant’s role revolves around communication and interpersonal skills. They’ll need to be able to relay and explain complex information and advice to clients in a calm, thorough and concise manner. Often, they’ll need to go over this information one, two, maybe even three times, which can take a great deal of patience.

Three ‘hard’ skills every accountant needs

Unlike soft skills which are an extension of someone’s natural personality traits, hard skills are the qualifications and experience learnt in the classroom or on the job. For instance, a paediatrician might be able to communicate with children incredibly well (soft skill), but they’ll still need to learn and practice the required medical skills in order to treat them (hard skills). Below are three of the most desirable hard skills that an accountant needs to refine in order to be successful in their role. Unlike the more general soft skills mentioned above, these hard skills align specifically with the accountant role and skillset.

Accounting software proficiency

It goes without saying that an accountant must be adept using a diverse range of accounting software and applications. This also includes staying up to date with the latest technologies and services on the market in order to make sure their skillset doesn’t become outdated, so that they’re able to support and advise clients more effectively.

Data analysis…

Accurate data analysis is another vital competent of the accounting profession, and is a requisite for starting a career in the industry. An accountant must be able to generate the reports, forecasts, and financial statements which are so essential for businesses and decision makers. This information is crucial for steering a business whilst minimising risk (and tax bills!). Data analysis is in the DNA of any successful accountant.

Accounting and tax competence and compliance

Earning an accounting qualification is one thing (and it really is a big achievement!) – but accountants must also be sure to maintain a firm grasp on current rules, as well as what’s coming up. At the moment the big news in the industry is Making Tax Digital – big changes to the way that businesses record and submit their tax returns. Forward knowledge of this means accountants can help their clients prepare well in advance, hopefully making the transition far more seamless. Other rules and processes can change to – the tax support available during the pandemic being a good example of this – and it’s essential that accountants not only have a good foundation knowledge, but also have the skills to keep building on this.

Of course, these lists are by no means exhaustive! But, if you’re considering a career in accountancy, they’re a good starting point for a successful, satisfying future.

The writer Elizabeth Hughes is the content editor at The Accountancy Partnership

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