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The Softer Side of Accounting

What are the top skills that accountants need? The first items that might come to mind are analytical skills, problem-solving skills, or knowledge of U.S. GAAP (United States Generally Accepted Accounting Principles). These practical talents are important; however, employers and clients say they want more in their accountants. They are looking for accountants with skills beyond what’s required to obtain an accounting degree. They want accountants with soft skills.

What are the soft skills that accountants need? Accounting professionals need to become more than “number crunchers;” they need to develop leadership and business skills. Among these soft skills are the ability to write effectively and communicate conclusions, to work well in a team environment, to think on one’s feet, and to act ethically.

Accounting is a service profession that involves helping other departments and management within an organization or assisting clients during audits and tax preparation. Because of these responsibilities, accountants need the ability to cultivate strong relationships and make interactions with management or clients enjoyable and productive.

When employers hire accountants without these soft skills, there becomes what is known as a skills gap. This gap can hurt companies through lowered performance, poor decision making, and higher personnel costs. Employers, educators, and students need to work together to close this skills gap.

What can be done to close the skills gap? This can be accomplished through a combination of the following: improving our accounting curriculum, continuing education, mentoring, and certifications. First, universities need to weave oral and written communication into the accounting curriculum. Most students underestimate the amount of writing and communication that comes with accounting. Along with communications, colleges need to emphasize team building and group activities. Lastly, they need to encourage lifelong learning in students, along with the importance of networking.

Employers need to also encourage continuing education, ongoing professional development, and attending networking events. Assigning a mentor to a newly employed accountant can start a relationship that helps to close the skills gap. Developing strong relationships will help make the interactions with clients and other departments more successful.

Accountants can also drive their own success by obtaining certifications, joining professional organizations, and making a point to network regularly. Most certifications require courses in ethics and the organizations that administer these certifications require organizational membership. These professional organizations continually hold networking events and continuing education conferences as well as webinars. Accountants need to embrace the concept of lifelong learning.

Mastering the accounting rules, concepts, and principles can be difficult enough, but these won’t get you very far without your soft skills. If you want to be the most successful accountant you can be, make it your goal to develop your leadership and business skills. With the right Master’s in Accountancy program, you can not only master the accounting concepts and principles, you can also gain the soft skills needed to succeed in your career.

For more information on the Online Master of Science in Accountancy, please contact an enrollment counselor at 877-308-9954.

About the Author

Melanie Torborg, CMA, is the Program Director of the Accounting Programs at Saint Mary’s University. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Finance and a Master's Degree in Business. She is also a Certified Management Accountant with more than 20 years of experience in corporate accounting. Her favorite areas of accounting are budgeting, strategic planning, and financial statement analysis.