Like few other professions, accounting uniquely allows professionals to be both a numbers person and a people person. While they analyze and report on a wide range of data, accountants also interact with diverse clientele and break down financial information into language that the average person can understand. So, whether you already have a degree in accountancy, you’re currently an accounting major, or you’re actively exploring careers in accounting, it’s important to know the best skills employers are looking for in their accounting employees. Here are our top 10.
How to Become an Accountant
Accounting is an exact field, which means there is little room for error. Not surprising then, employers are looking for technical skills in their accountants to ensure they have the expertise to accurately and ethically manage, analyze, and report on an organization’s or individual’s financial activities. Employers are also looking for soft skills, or the less tangible abilities that help you excel on the job.
Top Skills of an Accountant
While there is a wide range of careers in accounting, such as forensic accountant, financial analyst, personal finance advisor, and actuary, at a minimum, employers will be looking for these technical accounting skills on your resume.
1. Knowledge of Accounting Practices
The accounting major will, no doubt, become familiar with the GAAP, or the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. These principles are designed to standardize accounting practices in companies and industries across the United States. It is also important to have knowledge of the regulatory standards related to corporate and public finances to ensure requirements for financial reporting are met and integrity in the organization’s accounting practices is maintained.
2. Proficiency in Accounting Software
Much of the accountant’s job requires utilizing common spreadsheet software and account reconciliation software. Other types of software with which the general accountant should have expertise include database reporting, financial reporting and analysis, financial statements, compliance, and project management. If you will be preparing taxes, you will need a thorough knowledge of tax software. Even if you are not preparing tax returns, you will likely be providing financial information and preparing documents for those who do. Therefore, having a working knowledge of tax software can help you stand out to a prospective employer.
For upper-level jobs like senior accountants and financial analysts, the ability to navigate Enterprise Resource Planning software (ERP) is a required accounting skill. Organizations use ERP software to manage day-to-day business activities such as supply chain, manufacturing, and operations. Knowledge of business analytics software is another major plus when exploring careers in accounting because it takes raw data and converts it into clear, meaningful information for making educated business decisions.
3. Ability to Prepare Financial Statements
Perhaps considered the bread and butter of the general accountant, financial statements chronicle the organization’s business activities and financial position. The three primary statements you should be able to prepare going into a new job are income statements (profit and loss), cash flow statements (movement of cash assets), and balance sheets (a real-time look at assets, liabilities and equity). These statements give your organization a routine snapshot of its financial health.
4. Knowledge of General Business Practices
A bachelor’s degree in accountancy can be coupled with a concentration in Leadership and Management or followed up with an MBA to gain valuable knowledge of business operations. Taking business courses in conjunction with your accounting major is a smart idea. Why is this helpful with careers in accounting? You will almost certainly be working with employees in other departments and colleagues or clients in other industries. A foundation in business will allow you to better understand the unique financial needs of those internal and external clients and knowledgeably provide the professional accounting assistance they need.
5. Ability to Analyze Data
An organization’s financial data is one of its greatest assets. It can inform decisions in nearly every area of operations and is crucial for ensuring the ongoing success of the company. That’s why being able to compile and analyze raw financial data is a critical skill for accountants. Those with knowledge of data query language will have an extra advantage when seeking careers in accounting because of their ability to pull specific information from large volumes of data. Data query skills also allow accountants to identify patterns in business data sets, locate errors and catch fraud.
6. Critical Thinking Skills
Good critical thinking is the ability to see the forest and the trees; to see the big picture and the smallest details. Considering a problem or subject from all angles allows you to apply accounting practices to both new and old financial information to pinpoint issues and identify solutions within ethical standards. Employers want to know they can count on you to be an independent thinker and researcher, to explore options for solving a problem, and to use deductive reasoning to approach roadblocks.
Soft Skills Needed for Accounting
You won’t be practicing your technical skills in a vacuum in today’s corporate culture, however. You will also be required to use a variety of soft skills to meet the needs of both your organization and your clients. Here are just a few of the softs skills needed in accounting.
7. Accounting Organizational Skills
An accountant has to juggle multiple projects and clients at once, so getting and staying organized is incredibly important. Not only will keeping neat files and records help you do your job more efficiently and accurately, but it will also send a message to your employer and clients that they can trust you to capably handle their financial information with respect and integrity.
8. Time Management Skills
Being aware of the many projects you have on your plate, knowing the deadline for each, and prioritizing your time accordingly will make you a tremendous asset to your employer. They will know they can rely on you, and you will feel empowered each time you successfully meet your client’s needs on time. Whether you keep a detailed calendar, set up regular reminders on your phone, or have a daily to-do list, stay in charge of your schedule. Remember to remain flexible, however, for those urgent requests that are thrown your way. Simply reconfigure your priorities so you stay on track.
9. Written and Verbal Communication Skills
Even if you prefer to hide out with the numbers, there’s no getting around the fact that you will be required to interact in a variety of ways with colleagues, managers, clients, and industry professionals. You will likely be called on to conduct briefings, write reports, break down financial information into laymen’s terms, interface with clients, and work collaboratively with team members to gather, record, and analyze data. Even sending well-crafted emails is an important skill. If this is not your strong suit, it may be well worth your time and effort to get some training to increase your value to a prospective employer.
10. Continual Learning
The accounting field is one that experiences regular change, whether it be in regulations, tax codes, software, or best practices. Being proactive to stay abreast of these changes will show your employer that you can be a go-to for industry-relevant information and skills. Ottawa University’s online degrees in accounting prepare you to be a life-long learner and offer you the opportunity to continue your education by earning a Master of Accountancy or an MBA.
Start Your Accounting Career!
Becoming an accountant starts by earning a degree in accountancy that teaches you both the technical and soft skills you need to land a solid job. Ottawa University offers online accounting concentrations in Actuarial Science, Economics, Finance, and Leadership and Management to complement your degree. Our online degrees in accounting are made up of 8-week courses that allow you to expedite your education. With our accelerated, online degrees you can fast-track your way to getting your diploma. In addition to online, we are conveniently located in Kansas City, Milwaukee, and Phoenix.
We look forward to helping you enroll today!
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