According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the accounting field is growing; With more than 96,000 new accounting and auditing jobs expected to be created by 2030,1 it’s important to have a leading professional edge in this competitive field.
A portfolio of soft skills may be what you need to set you apart from other professionals in the field. Soft skills are talents that enable people to effectively communicate, appreciate and work with people in a variety of firms and professional settings.
If you’ve been working for a few years in the accounting industry, you’ve probably noticed that successful people at the office know more than technical accounting skills. They know the skills needed by accountants to perform their duties, succeed and move up.
They also have the professional qualities required to lead a meeting, put clients at ease, persuade people and make themselves heard and ultimately appreciated. They write and send purposeful emails or memos (the kind that people actually read) and deliver strong presentations.
Chances are, you likely admire these people who invested a lot of time to develop effective soft skills. Accounting soft skills like communication or critical thinking can take average and competent accountants and transform them into stellar performers. Developing these skills takes time, which is why they’re often the focus of graduate programs and later personal development workshops.
Here’s an overview of soft skills for accountants:
1. Writing and Oral Communications Skills
English class may not have been your favorite, nevertheless writing skills that convey intelligence are required for success in today’s communication-intensive workplace and are transferable in nearly every industry. The effectiveness of words is not measured by volume – less is more. Emails can be shorter and stronger, and presentations more direct and engaging. When you get to the point in your writing, you’ll find it positively influences your speaking, as well.
2. Critical Thinking Skills
Susan Wolcott, CPA and Ph.D., wrote in the Journal of Accountancy that critical thinking skills are essential for accountants.2 Think of it this way: What do you see when looking at a spreadsheet? Just a series of numbers, or a deeper story inside?
Spotting patterns and trends, testing information or coming up with a coherent strategy to solve complex problems is critical thinking. Developing a long-term financial plan for a client requires critical thinking. This is a soft skill that you can develop over time through experience and actively seeking information about how others do what you do. Try to think outside the box when you encounter a problem. Rather than doing the first thing that comes to mind, search for a creative solution. You may have thought of the best solution first, but you’ll never know until you explore.
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3. Persuasion Skills
According to the HR services organization Excelforce, building consensus is key to successful leadership.3 Whether you’re on a management track at work or preparing to sit for your CPA exam for the first time, you need to be adept at persuasion. This isn’t about always being right or being a salesperson. Instead, think of persuasion as an interpersonal skill required to gain trust and build relationships.
Accountants need to persuade their clients through their relationships and expertise. Good managers persuade team members to work together to achieve a goal. Persuasion is as much about your self-confidence as your ability to analyze a situation and formulate a plan.
4. Technology/Computer Skills
Knowing the laws and how to pull insightful data out of a balance sheet are critical to an accountant’s success. However, if you can’t use the software and other tools necessary to do your job, advancing your career will be tough.
Think about the people in your office. The chances are good that the employees who are comfortable with technology, embrace change, and constantly look for better tools appear to be more confident in the workplace. Training, whether at home or through a structured program, can help give you the technical know-how you deserve when it comes to professional software.
5. Leadership Skills
Soft skills for the accounting industry come down to this collective term – leadership. This quality is not just about being an effective boss or a trusted advocate, it’s about earning respect through effort. Good leaders practice effective communication; they think about their audience and how their words are interpreted. They are also big-picture strategic and think about the long-term. It’s important to balance quick wins while maintaining the patience to wait for rewards down the line.
Leaders are valued by supervisors, coworkers and clients alike. To develop your leadership soft skills, think about taking management courses, getting a mentor or just making it a life priority this year until it’s second nature.
Take the Next Step in Your Accounting Career
As you look at your career three, five or even 10 years from now, you’ll quickly comprehend how valuable these soft skills are for your professional success. By strengthening your skills, practicing better communication and strengthening your critical thinking process, you’ll become a trusted advisor, a confident colleague and a well-rounded accountant (and person).
Quality soft skills are just as important as the fundamental skills mastered in your undergraduate program. Take the leap and devote the time to building your professional resume with the online Master of Accountancy (MAcc) from The University of Scranton.
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