Careers advice

Key soft skills for accountants

What makes a well rounded accountant?

In days gone by, accountants were seen as number crunchers and bookkeepers who only had eyes for the bottom line. Today, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

The modern accountant has morphed into a cornerstone of a business, with a huge part to play in everything from strategy formation to operational efficiencies.

While this transformation has made accountancy and finance jobs more varied, it also requires the honing of a variety of essential soft skills alongside the technical accounting skills you’ve worked so hard to achieve. But which soft skills do you absolutely need to have? Here are some of the most important.

The most important soft skills for accountants

1. Communication

We know you’re probably tired of hearing about communication, but there’s a reason it’s nearly always at the top of any list of important soft skills, and accountancy is no exception.

Without a doubt, one of the most valuable skills an accountant can have is the ability to communicate complex financial data to people outside of the accounting and finance team. Depending on your role and seniority, you might need to do this in situations ranging from setting the strategy of the whole business to working with sales managers on specialised projects. In either of these situations, you’ll need to be able to explain your decisions or opinions without using the complex accounting jargon that’s second nature to you.

Crucially, modern NZ businesses are becoming increasingly transparent to staff regarding finances, so you may well need to be comfortable with presenting this information to large groups, and potentially taking questions.

You need to be able to explain financial information to people who don't speak your language.

2. Business knowledge

As well as being able to communicate with the rest of the business, you need to understand every part of the business..

The best way to do this? Book in meetings with heads of departments, and get the lowdown on their top level goals and ongoing projects. They should be more than happy to have these discussions, as the technical accounting skills you bring to the table may help them spot trends or patterns they’d otherwise miss.

Top tip: the importance of this skill means that it really pays to read up on the wider business before going to a job interview. You need to show you can provide value outside of the traditional definition of an accountancy job, so make sure you do your homework.

3. Analysis and critical thinking

This is one of the most important soft skills required for accountants as the role has diversified. We live in a world of data, and part of the role’s transformation has been an increasingly advisory contribution for accounting and finance personnel within the business.

Modern accountants need to be able to analyse reams of data and look for the stories it tells. From there, your critical thinking and decision-making skills need to kick-in to interpret what this story is telling you. Is there heaps of waste going unnoticed? Are certain products or services just not giving ROI? Often you’ll be the first person with access to this all important data, and therefore you’ll have the opportunity to implement real improvements for the company.

Data analysis and exploration are key for modern accountants.

4. Leadership skills

It doesn’t matter if you’re heading into your first accountancy job, or eyeballing a CFO role, employers want accounting and finance staff who are self-starters and who are unafraid to take the initiative.

Good companies also want people who show potential to grow within the company, so they’ll be on the hunt for future leaders who can guide and advise more junior staff and create a positive team atmosphere.

How can you show this in an interview? Don’t be afraid to suggest (well researched!) ideas for how you would make the role your own, or talk about times you’ve helped empower your colleagues to grow and achieve their goals.

5. The ability to work under pressure

The trade off for the increased influence and variability accounting and finance staff now enjoy in NZ businesses is extra pressure, This should come as no surprise, given that you’re likely to have a hand in key business decisions-making processes.

Fortunately, accountants are used to working in pressured situations, and pride themselves on attention to detail in the more technical aspects of their role, so adjusting to this increased personal pressure should be a walk in the park, right?