Hiring an Accountant

Accountancy Soft Skills - Thinkstock

With the market for skilled and experienced accountants tightening, organisations are having to work harder to attract and retain top talent. Almost nine in ten (87 per cent) finance leaders surveyed by Robert Half said they are struggling to hire suitably skilled candidates, as demand for professional services exceeds supply.

This is forcing employers to offer more attractive pay and benefits packages their preferred candidates, in a bid to hire and retain the top performers. Some 42 per cent of employers expect to boost base salaries this year, while 26 per plan to offer bigger bonuses to their staff. Among those planning to increase pay, the average rise will be 6.1 per cent - several times the current rate of UK inflation.

So with employers offering higher salaries to accounting professionals, it is even more important for them to make the right decisions during the recruitment process. Hiring an accountant may represent a significant investment for the organisation, so it is vital to ensure they choose somebody with the skills, experience and personal attributes to be successful in the role. Failing to do so could prove to be an expensive mistake for their organisation.

Choosing the best candidate

Some companies may be selective over the particular qualification a prospective accounting candidate may bring, but in the end, all qualified accountants will have completed their exams and have the certification to prove their credentials. At the very least, for entry-level positions, they will be working towards this stage.

When selecting from the candidate pool, it may be important to think about the other skills and characteristics of each individual. What can they bring to the table that is different to everybody else? And how will they fit into the existing team, and organisation as a whole? When choosing between similarly qualified and experienced individuals, it could be that soft skills are the deal-breaker - the determinant as to who receives the job offer.

Soft skills for accounting professionals

There are a variety of soft skills which can benefit professionals working in accounting and finance. As a hiring manager, the task is to learn as much about each candidate as possible, and identify attributes and personality traits which could be of value to the organisation. Here are some of the skills which can benefit professionals working in accounting jobs:

  • Commercial understanding

Increasingly organisations are looking to recruit candidates who have an interest in, and understanding of, wider business issues. The finance department does not exist in silo - it has a knock-on effect to every other arm of an organisation, and it will be important for accountants to work with colleagues from a variety of different business backgrounds.

Accountants must be able to manage and interpret figures, but also explain what the numbers mean to the organisation as a whole, in the context of the business plan. Increasingly, they are being invited to participate in strategic decision making, helping to shape the future of organisations. But in order to do so, they must understand how business works, how markets are changing, and where there are potential opportunities and risks.

  • Industry awareness

Accountants must also have a demonstrable interest in, and knowledge about, the industry they are working in. The accounting and finance sector is evolving rapidly, particularly where financial reporting is concerned, and professionals need to ensure they have their finger on the pulse. Being technically-skilled as an accountant and having a high degree of accuracy with numbers, is no longer enough.

Candidates need to understand the past, present and future of their role, and embrace changes to their industry and personal responsibilities as they arise. This requires enthusiasm for their profession and sector as a whole, and a willingness to spend time reading, researching and updating their knowledge. Given all their other high-priority tasks, and the busy nature of this job, it can be all too easy to stand still. But unless individuals make the effort to stay up to date, they will ultimately find themselves left behind.

  • Commitment

When hiring an accountant, it makes sense to look for somebody who genuinely wants to work for the organisation, and is eager to carve out a long-term career there. The longer organisations can retain talented individuals, and keep them motivated to give their all, the greater the return on investment they offer.

Some talented accountants may simply be looking for a new role as the next stage of their career development plan, and offer little in the way of longevity. If they have their sights set on a bigger prize at a different organisation, the value they will offer to the organisation is limited. It will cost time and money replacing them when the inevitable occurs, and also potentially hamper the productivity of their colleagues during the next transition period.

Candidates' CVs may offer clues as to which type of character they are - the sort who settles into a role and stays with an employer for an extended period of time, or someone who moves around and is likely to leave after a relatively short period of service.

  • Communication

Accountants must be able to collaborate effectively with colleagues across a variety of departments, and also communicate key information to non-finance staff. They may be required to conduct presentations to the board, helping to shape strategy and influence decision-making. And the way they form relationships with clients may have a bearing on the success of the organisation as a whole.

  • International experience

In an increasingly globalised world, employers are recognising the value of individuals with international experience. Accountants who have spent time working in another jurisdiction may bring vital skills, cultural knowledge and understanding, offering insight that other members of staff lack. Many organisations are looking to explore overseas trading opportunities, and experience of working abroad can potentially help establish and maintain profitable relationships.

  • Flexibility

Candidates who embrace challenges and respond to new ways of working can offer great value to organisations. This is particularly the case in the digital age, with the pace of change continuing to accelerate. New solutions and techniques are emerging all the time, and accountants need to take advantage of them in order to offer maximum value. A degree of agility should also help accountants respond to regulatory changes within the sector, ensuring they are able to deliver the best possible level of service, both internally and externally.

  • Time management

As accountants are asked to make more of a contribution to strategic decision making, they are taking on a hefty and varied workload. In the first instance, they need to ensure the books are balanced, but their role extends far beyond basic financial management. Only those individuals who are properly organised and able to make the best use of their working day can offer maximum value to their employer, as the demands placed on accountants continue to rise.