Key Skills for Accountants: Honing Your Technical Accounting Skills & Abilities
Accounting is a rapidly expanding field, with high forecasts for rapid growth over the next few years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that "142,400 new accounting and auditing jobs will open up by 2024" - an 11% growth rate.
This means that if you are interested in joining this booming field, or are already working in it but are looking to take the next step in your accounting career, now is the time to get started. One of the best ways find a great job in accounting is to focus on your technical accounting skills and abilities. Because so many people in accounting-related fields do not have formal training, and because so many of the accounting positions available require a credential (such as a bachelor's degree, certificate, or even a master's degree), having a set of well-honed skills in accounting will help you stand out from the competition and find success in this in-demand field.
Key Skills for Accountants
Because accounting is such a large and complex field, with no two accounting jobs looking exactly alike, it can be challenging to determine the top accounting skills and abilities professionals need to have in their back pockets. However, most individuals will need to have a general set of accounting job skills that translate across all areas of the field.
Perhaps the most obvious skill for an accountant to have is a facility with financial data. By its most basic definition, an accountant is someone who manages, inspects, and analyzes a business's or individual's financial records. As a result, some of the most important skills in accounting include the ability to apply financial frameworks used by businesses to prepare financial reports and to complete other financial tasks.
A good accountant will be able to apply professional judgement when preparing, analyzing, and interpreting financial information, and should be able to perform these tasks in a way that reflects both the art and the science of accounting. Accountants may also be required to assess an organization's accounting systems to ensure sound financial information, generate appropriate asset evaluation, and reduce the risk of fraud. They must also be comfortable assessing the ethics of financial-related decisions, and should be scrupulous in their reporting.
As the go-to financial experts in their organizations, accountants must be able to research financial-related subjects, synthesize the information gathered, critically evaluate it, and communicate it to a non-accounting audience in a professional, cohesive, and logical way, clearly separating fact from opinion. They should also be able to evaluate financial information within the context of their organization, its strategy, and its culture, not just within a generic bubble of accounting best practices.
Most accountants are analytical by nature, and are drawn to the profession because of the high level of analytical ability it requires. Accounting job skills consist of far more than just number-crunching: accountants must be able to execute in-depth financial analysis, and be able to approach each situation with a critical mind, working from a strong, integrated foundation of accounting knowledge to determine the appropriate course of action and the techniques to be used. In addition to being able to use financial data effectively, one of the most important skills for accounting professionals is the ability to interpret that financial data, and analyze the interplay between that information, the overall organization, and various individual departments within it.
Accountants must be strong problem-solvers and decision-makers, and must be able to objectively analyze information to identify problems within and challenges facing an organization and its accounting framework, then use an integrated approach to develop effective solutions to address them. An accountant should be able to think not just critically, but creatively as well, and understand the relevance of accounting information to all aspects of overall organizational health.
This also extends into the realm of risk analysis, as accountants are often tasked with identifying and assessing factors that may jeopardize the success of a project or entity, both in the context of the overall business and in specific situations, such as an audit.
Because of the highly technical nature of an accountant, some of the most important accounting skills and abilities center on organization. The most successful accountants are detail-oriented, since everything must add up exactly on the bottom line and every cent a business brings in or sends out must be accounted for. This also involves being extremely comfortable working with, and keeping track of, large amounts of data.
Additionally, accountants must be involved with, and often responsible for, a variety of different systems which require constant maintenance and updating. They must be good planners, as accountants must often be looking far ahead to their next deadlines, and have strong time management skills. On top of this, accountants must be able to keep up this high level of organization even under pressure, especially during busy times like tax season.
Information Technology Skills
Accounting is now just as focused on technological aptitude as it is on facility with numbers. Today's accountants are often tasked with information technology responsibilities in addition to traditional accounting functions. On a basic level, accountants must be very computer-savvy and comfortable with technology, as most modern organizations use a variety of different accounting information systems to manage their accounting activities. An accountant might be expected to have a strong background in a number of applications, including finance-related software systems, Microsoft Excel, and data modeling programs, among others. They must be able to manipulate, extract, and analyze from each of these individually, and often use several programs in conjunction with one another to obtain a holistic perspective of an organization's finances.
Accounting professionals who wish to set themselves apart as competitive candidates for a new job or a promotion may want to develop a specialization in one specific application or type of system, or familiarize themselves on a deeper level with the most common accounting information systems so as to be able to guide and inform an organization's decisions regarding which applications to implement to facilitate accounting functions.
General Business Skills
Today's accounting professionals must have a skillset that extends beyond typical accounting competencies. According to AccountingWEB, "accountants are playing a larger role in organizations today. Other departments across the enterprise are increasingly relying on accounting and finance professionals to provide strategic guidance and support on key business decisions. This, in turn, requires these individuals to expand their general business knowledge."
As accountants become more integrated into other departments, and are drawn upon as resources for employees across the organizations for which they work, they must demonstrate foundational skills that speak to their abilities as well-rounded professionals. The same article notes a recent survey that found that, while hiring managers are looking for "individuals who are technically adept in the field of accounting, these skills do not make a complete professional." A recent survey of over 2,100 CFOs across the U.S. found that they were largely looking for employees who could demonstrate general business knowledge, communication skills, leadership abilities, and customer service orientation, in addition to key accounting skills.
Developing Your Technical Accounting Skills & Abilities
Now that you know the key skills for accountants, you're most likely wondering how you can develop them yourself. While many skills in accounting can be obtained over time, through experience on the job, obtaining additional credentials is an important way for accounting professionals to establish their authority and expertise in the workforce. Because accounting is an increasingly popular field, having credentials beyond work experience is a good way to differentiate yourself and make yourself a competitive candidate for jobs and promotions going forward.
One of the best ways to develop accounting job skills is to pursue a degree or certificate through an accredited higher education institution. If you're looking to change careers and enter the accounting field, an undergraduate degree or accounting certificate might be a good choice to help you develop the skills you'll need to make the shift. Certificates can also be a great option for current professionals who want to hone their technical accounting and general business skills and boost their resumes.
As a busy working professional, going back to school might sound like a daunting prospect--you probably feel that fitting classes into a packed schedule and trying to balance school commitments with home and work life would be nearly impossible. Luckily, online higher education is a great, accessible option for those with full-time jobs, and there are now many high-quality, affordable online colleges offering 100% online degree programs to choose from.
You could earn your online associate degree in accounting, your online undergraduate certificate in accounting or advanced accounting, or your online bachelor's degree in accounting from the comfort of your own home, on the road, or during your breaks at work. If you're looking to take your accounting skills to the next level, you could also pursue a masters in accounting online, or a graduate certificate in accounting online. A high-quality online education means you can continue working while building your technical accounting skills and abilities and your dreams of finding success in the accounting field.