While it’s certain that your accounting qualification -- whether AAT, ACA, CIMA or ACCA -- gives you a foot in the accounting and finance door, it doesn’t necessarily mean instant success for your career. Of course, gaining the required accreditations and degree is important, but these alone are not the essential ingredients for becoming a successful accounting and finance professional and securing the best jobs in the market today.
In the current business landscape, it’s clear the increasing investment for control functions and finance systems show that there is more demand for professionals with the right technical skills. However, in the ongoing digital skills gap, many employers are looking for accountants with the strong ability to grow within the role – whether that be on a permanent or interim basis. So, what makes these successful accountants stand out as top talent? And if you are a qualified accounting and finance professional, what will tip your applications into the “yes” category for hiring managers?
Whether you’re looking for a temporary or permanent role, the skills that will set you apart from the accounting crowd are your technical ability combined with your soft skills. This includes things like emotional intelligence, strategic thinking and adaptability. Even if you’re ticking off a ACCA or CIMA qualification on the criteria list, you should know how much softer skills can really bolster your CV and a hiring manager’s impression of you. The result? A progressive development of your career and a rate of continuous achievement.
To be a strong contender think about what you contribute to the business as a whole, including the cultural fit. Offering up more than technical capability gives you a huge advantage over the competition. Here are some significant accounting soft skills that will mean the difference to a hiring manager when employing the right accountant for their team:
1. Business and commercial acumen
The business world outside of accountancy and finance is vast but having that knowledge will definitely set you apart. More and more accounting and finance teams are migrating to the centre of the business as their strategic decision-making skills are needed. Having that commercial insight and understanding means they are at an advantage to help improve business decision-making. Also, the comprehensive ability to explain why and how a business might be impacted, or where risks might be involved in the current accounting and finance markets, means you've got a better chance of being considered as top talent to be hired.
2. Effective communication
Being an “effective” communicator doesn’t come down to just talking. It’s how you approach team communication. Currently finance teams are having to actively partner across departments, which means communication has to be strong, confident and clear. Showing that you are an advocate of the organisation and its activities is something employers look for in accountants and finance professionals and is seen as a desirable trait. This means finance and accounting professionals need to be able to communicate confidently. Individuals need to speak to colleagues, clients and partners at all levels of and convey how their findings will impact different areas of a business.
3. Problem-solving skills
Hiring managers are not looking to employ accountants who are unwilling to change their mindset. In their approach to work, professionals who embrace new ways of thinking and come up with innovative solutions to problems are seen as prominent team members. As businesses adopt new technologies, working practices will inevitably change and so accounting and finance professionals with problem-solving skills will increase in demand.
For contract and interim accountants this is a great opportunity to work in different businesses who need problem-solving skills in order to help them effectively work on key projects. A number of businesses today are moving to more digital processes and your expertise can help to upskill existing finance teams in the process, for example. In fact, the current interim and contract market is seeing strong demand and 81% of CFOs are relying on experienced finance and accounting talent to support their teams.
4. Adaptability and leadership
The path to success does not only lie with great business acumen and effective communication skills for finance and accounting professionals. There is every opportunity to progress into roles all the way up to senior management and director level if you are shown to be an adaptable leader. An openness to change and the ability to work in a fast-paced environment is a given in the finance landscape. However, leading the way through this with initiative and supporting the business as a whole will show the person who hired you the potential for you to rise through the ranks. Many of the FTSE 100 CEOs began working as finance professionals, using their accounting experience and soft skills to make an impact. Having a proven track record of delivering results and showing leadership by getting your team through periods of change maintaining their productivity will show you to be a strong candidate.
5. Initiative and dedication
It’s always good to show a willingness to learn in every role and any position you are in. Since accountants and finance professionals are central to the business function, going out of your way to be proactive and show your commitment to the business means you’re willing to go above and beyond the regular responsibilities of your role. Having great accounting skills isn't enough; employers need people who can organise their own workload and diary to meet deadlines, while showing the initiative to spot areas for improvement in the process.
The accountable accountant
In the coming year hiring managers will start to look for accounting and finance professionals who can provide a good balance between the necessary technical skills and those all-important soft skills in business. An accountant who has both technical excellence with CIMA or ACCA qualifications will be rated alongside their ability to use their soft skills to add significant value to the business.
Within your CV, be accountable of the breadth of your capabilities. Convey where you have experience and show the range of skills you bring to the role, so that you come across as more than just a finance brain. Employers are looking for people who have many strings to their bow and with the potential to add more, so it's up to you to show what you can do.