Accountants don’t hide in the accounting department anymore. They are usually active and visible members of the company, so a solid grasp and background in business will serve you well. Many accountants get an MBA immediately before or after completing their accounting and finance program of study.
The world revolves around technology, for better or worse. Computers, mobile devices, instant communication apps. Accounting departments typically rely on complex and robust software programs for keeping track of their finances. Payments, income, payroll, expenses, marketing...any money coming in or going out, all in one place. Looking at records and the financial big picture has never been easier...as long as you know your way around the necessary tech.
As an accountant, you have a lot of responsibility. Whether you’re a public accountant working with your own clients, or the manager of a billion dollar budget in a Fortune-500 company, there’s a lot riding on you and what you do. Your clients are depending on you to make the right decisions and file the right documents on their behalf. Your company relies on you to lead them through the minefield of high-stakes finance. You need to be organized. Well organized. Ridiculously well organized. Deadlines, due dates, accounts, transactions, funds, exchange rates, and on and on and on.
This is the most obvious one, but it needs to be mentioned explicitly. Accounting is primarily about numbers. Dollars, cents, other currencies, taxes, percentages, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, decimals...there is no end to the numbers that you’ll need to work with and master. Some people have an innate ability and understanding of numbers. Others have to build and develop it. Either way, it must be there if you have any hope of succeeding in this field.
Accountants are front and centre. They are called upon by their companies to give presentations, make predictions to the C-suite execs, design financial plans for the short and long-term. Accountants working with the general public (i.e. their own clients) need to explain complicated financial matters in everyday language. They need to be understood. While they may work alone at times (crunching numbers), an accountant in the modern world will undoubtedly spend a lot of time talking and explaining. Communication skills are crucial.
An extension of communication skills, customer service skills are the equivalent of a doctor’s “bedside manner” in the accounting world. Accountants must know how to deal with, work with, and understand people. Their job usually involves working closely with an individual and in the high pressure and volatile world of dollars and cents. Their clients may get stressed, frustrated, angry, confused, upset, scared...as an accountant, you need to be able to diffuse the situation and demonstrate empathy and understanding.
Accountants are often very high up in a company’s hierarchy. The CFO, for example, is one of the most visible and respected of the C-suite execs. To move up, you need to demonstrate and develop strong leadership skills, from running your department, to making quick decisions on your own, to offering suggestions outside of your immediate sphere to improve financial performance.
Beyond a strong number sense, you’ll need to study and understand more complex financial ideas and concepts. A degree in finance and/or economics is definitely a worthy investment and use of your time. You don’t just work with numbers. You have to understand exactly how they relate to each other within your company, your country, and the world at large.
This one should be obvious. Accountants spend a great deal of time staring at large amounts of data, crunching numbers, exploring relationships between costs, markets, and products. They scrutinize information. They evaluate the connections. They look at the big picture. They hypothesize. You need excellent analytical skills to do the job.
Accounting is all about paying attention to details. As an accountant, you have to keep track of those details, you have to read through them, recognizing their importance and utilizing a laser-focused attention to detail to catch small errors, identify ways to highlight/improve things among hundreds of pages or entries of data. In accounting, a small mistake or omission can have big ramifications. It’s all about the details.
It’s not for everyone, but a career in accounting offers a lot more variety than might at first come to mind. Gone is the antiquated idea of the socially awkward number geek hunched over his or her desk. Accountants today are industry leaders, holding positions very high up the corporate ladder. Job titles include bookkeeper, auditor, accounting manager, director of financial operations, chief financial officer (CFO), chief accounting officer, budget analyst, corporate accountant, financial assurance specialist, revenue cycle administrator, senior strategic planner, tax specialist, and many more. “Just” an accountant? Hardly.
Because of the wide variety of positions that fall under the very large accounting umbrella, a good one needs to have a large skill set. It’s about numbers, yes, but it’s not just about numbers anymore. You have to have more at your disposal if you want to go far and move up. What sort of skills do you need? Here are the top ten skills needed for a job in accounting