There is more to succeeding in an accounting career than simply being good with numbers. Both accounting firms and the accounting professionals that work in them depend on the business of their clients to subsist and grow. To attract and retain clients, accountants must understand what clients look for and expect of their accountants, and they must work to develop those skills and attributes. It’s never too early for aspiring accountants to begin building their skills.
The “Hard Skills”
Many of the skills that students consider most necessary for a career in accounting are “hard skills.” Mathematics, software proficiency and knowledge of fundamental accounting concepts fall into this category. These are specific skills that had to be taught and memorized and could be quantitatively tested. Hard skills like these are the technical abilities you will need to prepare financial reports, file tax returns and examine statements for accuracy. This is the knowledge you will rely on when advising clients about handling their personal or business finance decisions. Hard skills are undoubtedly a major part of accounting. Clients certainly look for an accountant who is competent in all of these hard skills – but that’s not all they want in their accountants.
The “Soft Skills”
Hard skills may form the core of what’s needed for an accountant’s daily job duties, but a number of important “soft skills” are also beneficial for aspiring accountants to develop. Unlike hard skills, soft skills are less technical and specific, but still very important, especially for accountants. For example, the international Association of Chartered Certified Accountants lists “emotional intelligence” – the ability to understand others and interpret their signals and behaviors – as a particularly important skill for accountants. Likewise, Accounting Today urges accountants concerned with improving client relationships to learn to listen attentively and be proactive in discussing their clients’ big-picture financial goals.
One thing aspiring accountants often wonder is how they can develop the wide range of hard and soft skills they will need to create strong client relationships and succeed in their accounting careers. Students can develop their hard skills by working diligently in their college accounting and business courses and by finding internships that allow them to gain hands-on accounting experience. They can also develop their soft skills through a number of avenues. Their general education courses can allow them opportunities to develop communication skills. Students can also build teamwork skills through extracurricular activities, even those that are not directly related to accounting. They can use work experience as an opportunity to network.
The accountant-client relationship is an important one, built on trust. Clients look for accountants who they can trust to not only be competent in all of the hard skills necessary for the profession, but also to possess all the soft skills of the occupation and use them wisely. A resourceful student can develop both their hard skills and their soft skills during their education by taking advantage of the many opportunities available to them.