Careers advice

Key soft skills for accountants in New Zealand

What makes a well rounded accountant?

What you’ll learn:

  • What are soft skills?
  • Why do soft skills matter?
  • The most important soft skills for accountants

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.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are a set of abilities and personality traits that help someone do their job by working effectively with others. They are the opposite of hard skills, which refer to more objective competencies that you gain through targeted training, for example at school, university or a specific course.

Soft skills are usually hard to teach, and typically develop overtime, both as part of our natural development and through lived experience in the workplace.

Why do employers value soft skills?

People with good soft skills are highly prized by employers for a number of reasons. Firstly, as we’ve mentioned, these capabilities are hard to teach. So, unlike training someone to use a specific tool or process, if a new starter comes to the organisation with poor soft skills, it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to develop them quickly.

Among the other reasons that employers value soft skills are because:

  • They create a good working environment.
  • They allow employees to be flexible and adaptable.
  • They lead to improved customer service.
  • They improve employee retention.
  • They create an atmosphere of learning and development.

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?

6. Time management

Whether you’re part of a team of accountants working for a big firm, or have sole responsibility for this role as part of a smaller organisation, you’ll have a lot of important dates and deadlines to keep track of. From filing returns to renewing licences, you’ll need to ensure that you have excellent time management skills to ensure that nothing slips through the cracks.

7. Tech skills

As with just about every process in contemporary business, modern day accounting involves a good grasp of the latest tech products. While a reasonable employer won’t necessarily expect you to have had extensive experience with the exact accounting software that they use, you’ll need to demonstrate the adaptability to quickly learn how these tools work.

8. A desire to continue learning

The world of accounting doesn’t stand still for long, so having the ability and the desire to regularly renew your knowledge and skills is a must-have soft skill for successful accountants. This involves everything from staying up to date with the latest regulatory and legislative changes, to understanding how new software tools could improve efficiencies in your day-to-day workflow.