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7 soft skills needed for accounting in 2020 and beyond

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Do accountants need soft skills or are the technical (hard) skills enough?

If you want to future-proof your career in accounting and progress to more senior roles in top accounting firms, soft skills are becoming a necessity. As the use of automation grows, employers are looking for top talent that can do what the robots can’t.

Soft skills are personality traits and behaviours that shape how you work on your own and with others. Hard skills, on the other hand, refer to technical knowledge or training you acquire through education, work and life experience.

We’ve done some digging into what some of the soft skills employers are looking for so you stand the best chance at getting your dream job.

1. Communication

It’s all well and good to be able to understand numbers and spreadsheets, but you also need to be able to explain them to people who aren’t necessarily up on financial terminology. You need to be able to tell the story behind the numbers, and not use overwhelming jargon. If you can explain your work to a layperson, then your employability goes up.

2. Listening and empathy

Not only should you be able to speak, you must be able to listen. You can’t always assume you know what a client or customer wants and needs. Listen to their problem or concern, and fully understand what they need. Then you can come up with the right solution for them.

3. Good technical knowledge

You’ll need to quickly get to grips with new accounting software so if you’ve worked with different platforms you’ll always be a more attractive candidate. If you understand cloud computing, the latest database applications, and enterprise resource planning (ERP) programs you’ll be sought after.

4. Customer service

Solid customer service skills are essential - you need to be able to ask “how can I help you?” to new and existing clients and customers. If you’re seen as approachable and interested in them, you’re more likely to build a relationship and retain them long term.

Did you know?

According to a report from Development Economics, being able to demonstrate soft skills could boost your lifetime earnings by as much as 15%.

5. Collaboration and leadership

The old stereotype of an accountant locked away in their office by themselves for hours on end is on its way out. In larger businesses you will need to be able to work with others, either within your own team, or across the company. Shared work and planning are integral to most teams today so you need to be able to work well with others.

6. Creativity

It's great being efficient and doing tasks as assigned, but more and more employers are looking for creative people who can come up with innovative solutions to problems. Creativity goes hand in hand with communication as you need to be able to describe your solution and persuade someone that it's the right direction to take.

7. An enthusiasm for continued learning

As with the Continue Professional Development (CPD) that is applied to many of our qualifications, many employees are attracted to those who demonstrate a keen interest in continuing to challenge themselves and ‘push the envelope’.

An adaptable mind is an essential tool for navigating today’s ever-changing world, as yesterday’s solutions won’t solve tomorrow’s problems.

Some other things to consider

Employers will also look to see if you:

  • Have business knowledge and acumen
  • Can plan and organise your work. Prioritisation is key.
  • Can multitask
  • Have good analytical skills
  • Can solve problems on your own, or ask for appropriate help
  • Cope under pressure, and ask for help when needed
  • Work well by yourself, and within a team

The importance of soft skills for accountants of the future

There’s hard data that supports the idea behind investing time in strengthening soft skills. Recent research from accountancy recruiter Randstad Financial & Professional revealed that 76% of accountancy jobs advertised demand candidates who can demonstrate strong soft skills.

Another recent study suggested soft skills are worth £88bn to the UK economy, with this figure expected to rise to £127 billion by 2025. So there’s likely to be more and more employers actively investing in its employees’ development of soft skills in the same way many do for accounting qualifications.

Hopefully this has helped you think about the other skills you may need, on top of your accountancy qualifications.

If you are looking to start your accountancy career, visit our AAT, ACCA, CIMA and ACA pages for more information about our courses.