With accountants and auditors in high demand, now is as good a time as any to jump into the accounting profession. But what skills do you need to succeed in this fast-changing industry?
In this article, we’ll discuss:
- How the prerequisite skills for accountants have changed over the years
- The hard and soft skills you need to forge a successful career in accounting
- What the future holds for accounting skills
Let’s get into it.
How have accounting skills changed over the years?
Like most professions, accounting has changed a lot in recent decades thanks to advances in technology. As a result, the skills an accountant needs to excel have morphed as well.
In the past, accounting was a time-consuming task that required a strong grasp of maths and a head for numbers. Accountants had to track financial transactions, generate financial reports, and analyse financial data manually. Back then, accounting jobs focused primarily on hard skills.
Today, accountants have access to a wealth of technologies that simplify, streamline, and automate repetitive processes. Liberated from most of the mundane work, accounting has become more strategic and tactical, with a stronger focus on soft skills than ever before.
Top hard skills for a successful accounting career
Hard skills have always been important in accounting, and that’s unlikely to change. We’re talking here about the tangible, measurable, technical accounting skills you learn during training programs, professional accreditation or educational courses.
Because hard skills are relatively easy to teach and test for, qualified accountants should have a solid grounding in them. Here are five of the most important.
1. A deep knowledge of general accounting practices
Each country has a set of accounting principles that accountants must adhere to in their daily work. These principles standardise and codify accounting practices, ensuring that all accountants and accounting firms operate within the agreed-upon framework.
Depending on where you are based, you’ll need a deep knowledge of the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) or the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). These principles form the foundation of your accounting knowledge.
2. The ability to use accounting software
This is a huge one. Accounting software has transformed the way accountants do their jobs, and it’s advancing all the time. Being comfortable with the latest tech is essential if you want to be a successful and efficient accountant.
It’s not just accounting and bookkeeping software that you need to get to grips with. Forward-thinking accounting firms also use tech to streamline and automate areas such as:
- Project management
- Client communications
- Data collection
- Internal processes and workflows
Given the impact of software on the accounting industry, being tech-savvy is a real advantage.
3. The ability to analyse financial data
Financial data is the lifeblood of accounting. Your job as an accountant is to turn it from raw information to something useful and actionable. Financial analysis is how you do that. So what does this look like in practice? Well, competent accountants are able to:
- Analyse financial data to gain insights into the company’s financial health
- Calculate key financial ratios, and compare them to industry or company benchmarks
- Identify financial trends and how they might impact the company going forward
- Report findings to senior stakeholders, and make recommendations that improve the company’s financial health
4. Tax preparation
When tax season comes, an accountant’s workload can pile up. To survive, you’ll need a solid understanding of the relevant tax laws and regulations in your country or state.
Not only will you help your clients file their tax returns on time and within regulatory guidelines, but you’ll also be expected to advise them on measures to reduce their tax liabilities.
On top of this, there’s the small matter of staying organised. Tax season can get pretty crazy, so accountants need dedicated systems for gathering and storing client information.
5. Auditing skills
While audit and accounting aren’t exactly the same thing, most accounting firms also offer auditing services. Knowing how to audit financial statements to ensure accuracy, completeness, and compliance will stand you in good stead in your accounting career.
In most countries, financial audits are a legal requirement for businesses over a certain size. So the demand for competent auditors is always growing.
Top soft skills for a successful accounting career
As the profession evolves and the impact of technology grows, accountants are increasingly finding that well-developed soft skills are what differentiates them from the crowd. These skills are less tangible and harder to measure, but they’re no less valuable.
Because soft skills relate to our personal attributes, personality types, and experience, they are also less easy to formally teach and transfer. But if you can master these next five skills, you’ll be set for a bright future in accounting.
6. Strong communication skills
Despite what traditional stereotypes may have you believe, accountants don’t spend all day alone in front of a computer. They also have to communicate with a wide range of stakeholders, including clients and senior internal staff.
Communication skills are critical in accounting because they enable you to:
- Simplify complex matters and present findings
- Build stronger client relationships
- Collaborate better with colleagues and other departments
- Resolve issues faster
7. Resilience and adaptability
This one could be applied to most professions today, but it’s particularly true for accountants. To survive in today’s fast-moving world, accountants must be able to constantly adapt to new conditions.
Here are just some reasons why accountants must be resilient and adaptable:
- Ever-changing legal regulations
- Evolving technology and its impact on accounting processes
- Shifting business strategies
- Changing client needs
- Career growth opportunities
To keep up with the constant and rapid change, you’ll also need to develop a mindset of continuous learning. If you stand still long enough, your skills will become outdated.
8. Organisational and time-management skills
Accountants are nearly always busy. On any given day, you’ll be juggling multiple projects and interacting with different clients, each with their own needs, challenges, and deadlines. You may have an unbeatable knowledge of accounting processes, but if you can’t stay organised, you’ll struggle to meet clients’ needs.
Yes, technology can help. There are countless tools out there designed to help accountants and other professionals manage tasks, projects, and deadlines. So how you incorporate those tools into your daily workflow is key.
9. Critical thinking skills
Critical thinking is perhaps one of the more underrated tools in a modern accountant’s toolbox. A lot of people think of accountants as mere number crunchers, but a huge part of the job is how you interpret the financial data in front of you.
Critical thinking and analytical skills are valuable for accountants because they allow them to:
- Solve problems and develop effective solutions
- Evaluate options, consider alternatives, and make sound decisions
- Understand and manage risk
- Evaluate accounting processes and identify improvements
10. Attention to detail
We’ll wrap up this list with an accounting classic. Attention to detail has always been a critical skill for accountants, and it probably always will be. Why? Because in accounting, accuracy and professionalism are everything.
Yes, technology and automation have removed some of the risk of human error. But accounting is still a profession where fine margins matter. Whether it’s creating accurate financial statements or reading cash flow statements, you can’t afford to miss anything.
Likewise, when it comes to ever-changing regulatory requirements, the devil is often in the details. Misinterpret the fine print and the damage to your reputation could be unfixable.
How will accounting skills change in the future?
Nobody can predict the future with certainty, but one thing seems clear: The role that technology plays in our lives will continue to grow.
Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and automation are already starting to make waves in professional services. But what we’ve seen so far is only the tip of the iceberg. So what does that mean for accountants?
Well, the good news is that accountants aren’t going away. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for accountants will increase in coming years. But how those accountants do their job will no doubt change.
Technology will continue to simplify and speed up time-consuming processes, allowing you to get more done in less time. As this happens, there will be an even greater focus on the soft skills that are needed to deliver outstanding accounting services.