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4 Key “Soft” Skills For Accountants

20 Apr 2022

Jean O'Donovan

The "softer" skills are in demand when it comes to hiring accountants but what are they?

I have been recruiting accountancy professionals in Ireland and overseas for over 20 years and in that time frame I’ve seen a marked difference in what employers look for in potential employees. While nearly every job spec that crosses my desk has “accountancy qualification” as a requirement, the softer skills are now increasingly being seen as “essentials” rather than “nice to haves”. In a highly competitive jobs market where processes are becoming more and more automated, soft skills can be the difference between two candidates (or employees) looking for that same promotion or new role.  

For accountancy professionals looking to upskill for their existing role or for those looking to make an external career move, there are four key soft skills.

  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Time management
  • Commercial Thinking

    Communication

    The finance function is the corner stone of any organisation. Every other function has to interact at some stage with the finance/accountancy team be it for payroll, credit control or any other number of reasons. It’s vita that accountancy professionals have exceptional communication skills. Being able to communicate the financial strategy, creating action items from report findings and articulating the reasons behind financial decisions is key to getting buy-in from all areas of the company, especially if you are looking to progress within the organisation or take that step onto the external career ladder.

    It's important to understand your audience first in order to create a good communication strategy and decide on the best way to present the information. Make sure your emails and reports are in a clear, concise format and if in doubt, always ask for help from a manager/ mentor/supervisor.

    Always avoid using too much accountancy jargon. That way you ensure that anyone can understand the information, not just your colleagues on the finance team.  For any written communication, always doublecheck for any errors. If you’re going to be presenting a report, I’d recommend practicing in advance so that you can get your point across in a clear and concise manner.

    Collaboration

    As finance teams work cross functionally with every other area of the business, there is an inherent expectation that accountants possess solid collaboration skills. Projects such as budget forecasting and strategic planning (which involves all sorts of teams such as marketing, IT, hiring) can require a high degree of collaboration. Developing teamwork skills from the outset of your career is crucial and as you climb up the ladder towards a leadership position, being able to work successfully cross multi functions is key. Even for sole traders and sole practitioners, you will be working with clients on a daily basis so honing your collaboration skills is vital for business development.  Get involved in networking, volunteer for extra training or committee membership within your organisation and get to know everyone, what value they bring to the company and how you can work with them to reach your own and the company’s goals.

    Time management

    For me, time management is an essential skill for any accountancy/finance professional and I see it on 99% of requirements on job specs. This is particularly true within accountancy practices because of (a) how deadline-focused the profession is and (b) managing clients’ billing hours. It is also a question that pops up in the interview process quite often so that hiring managers can gauge how you manage your time in order to meet rigorous deadlines.

    Finance is a very task orientated profession so honing your time management skills in order not to be inundated with work at certain times of the year, eg, tax returns is crucial.  Automation is now integral to most finance processes but using a shared calendar / spreadsheet to track your own or your teams’ responsibilities for month and year end is key.

    Commercial/Strategic Thinking

    “A commercial mindset” or “strategic thinker” are two phrases that constantly pop up when I’m talking to our clients about the ideal candidate. The finance function is usually the first department called upon when problems arise. Budget forecasting, financial analysis reports, legislation changes, international reporting regulations all have an impact on every organisation so it’s vital to have that “big picture” mindset.

    If you take a CFO for example, they’re an integral part of any executive leadership team and they’re expected to play a major part in deciding on and implementing the strategy of the business. At the core of good commercial awareness is being able to look beyond the finance function, and taking a big picture view of the organisation, while still understanding where real value can be added, value that can be measured and reported. True commercial awareness is:

  • Knowing what global events/ trends are happening and how it might impact your own industry and organisation
  • Awareness of your company’s market and macro environment
  • Understanding new trends and new technologies and how you can use these to grow your market share.
  • Being able to quantify how different strategies / events will impact both profitability and cash flow as well as being able to predict to predict timelines of impact and recovery. 

    I firmly believe that these “soft” skills are crucially important if you want to progress your career as an accountant or indeed in any profession.

    Jean O’Donovan is Director with the Brightwater Group with specific responsibility for accountancy recruitment.