6 soft skills that every accountant needs

By Robert Half 11th May 2015

If you think becoming CIMA qualified or ACCA qualified guarantees you career success, then you can quickly forget this notion. Yes, it's important to gain your degree and professional accreditation, but qualifications alone won't secure the top finance and accountancy jobs. As an accountants you need to develop soft skills as well.

Whenever you apply for a job, there will always be other educated, ambitious jobseekers. Most likely, they will have a strong degree and a CIMA or ACCA qualification, so how do employers choose between you? Hiring managers need to look for other differentiators – such as accounting soft skills which set individual candidates apart from the rest of the field.

It is almost a prerequisite to have a ACCA or CIMA qualification to be considered for the top accountancy jobs, from there it comes down to soft skills and your interview skills that dictates your rate of career progress. If you can offer employers more than simply technical capability, you stand a greater chance of being hired. Increasingly, organisations are looking for strong all-round accounting professionals who can contribute to all areas of a business in different ways.

With this in mind, here are some of the accounting soft skills hiring managers may look for when hiring a new accountant for their team:

1. Commercial nous

Having knowledge about the business world - beyond the realm of finance and accountancy - can give you a major advantage in the jobs market. Increasingly, finance teams are moving to the centre of the business and being asked to contribute to strategic decision making. Individuals who have commercial skills, and use their insight and understanding to improve business decision making, are considered highly valuable. Being able to explain in-depth how a business is impacted by finance and accounting, how the markets operate and where the opportunities and risks lie, means you've got a greater chance of being hired.

2. Communication

The finance team no longer exists in silo - staff are expected to actively partner with teams and departments across the organisation. As an accountant, having strong personal branding to advocate an organisation and its activities are desirable traits that employers are seeking. 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. Leadership

Where finance and accounting staff have commercial nous and good communication skills, they have every opportunity to succeed in general business roles, right the way up to the top table in the boardroom. Many of the FTSE 100 CEOs started off working as finance professionals, and used their accounting experience and soft skills to rise through the ranks at their organisation. Employers recognise the value of having a finance background when it comes to executive roles, so when they make finance and accounting appointments, they are often looking for candidates with leadership potential. Individuals who have a proven track record of leading teams, delivering results and getting the best out of people are often on the hiring manager's wishlist.

4. Flexibility

Organisations do not want to hire rigid thinkers, who are set in their ways and unreceptive to change. They want employees who embrace new and innovative solutions and ways of working - people who may be early adopters. This applies to technology, industry regulation and even to working practices. As technology becomes a more and more important influence in business, there are various opportunities for flexible working, which can be used to maximise productivity, improve performance and boost output. Employers are looking for individuals who have the soft skills and an open mind who are prepared to use their accounting skills in a number of different ways.

5. Time management

Finance and accounting staff are busy individuals who have a range of tasks to complete on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis. As finance teams get more involved in strategic decision making, and take on new roles within the business, soft skills like time management are becoming ever-more important. Having great accounting skills isn't enough; employers need people who can organise their own workload and diary, taking their own  initiative to hit all their deadlines.

6. Commitment

It is in every employer's interests to avoid common hiring mistakes, especially when employees are not going to settle into their role and work for an organisation for a significant length of time. Recruiting and training up new members of staff is a costly process, meaning it is important for employers to retain their staff. As such, employers are looking for professionals who are likely to be committed and loyal to the organisation. They don't want to hire 'job hoppers', who are simply looking to use the organisation as a stepping stone to another role elsewhere.

How to be the right individual

For many employers, the perfect hire will be an accountant who has both technical excellence and a range of soft skills. They are looking for CIMA qualified or ACCA qualified accountants who can contribute to their organisation in different ways, using their own personal attributes to add value where they can. As a jobseeker, your task - when writing your CV and interviewing for roles - is to display the breadth of your capabilities, showing you are more than just a finance brain. Employers are looking for people who have many strings to their bow, so it's up to you to show what you can do. If you are already in your current role, then it’s just as important to up skill yourself as this will act in our benefit towards career advancement.

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