Because accountants work so extensively with numbers, it’s no surprise that accounting students often naturally focus on technical skills during their education, internships and preparation for the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) examination. While numbers and the technical skills involved with them are undoubtedly a major part of the job skills necessary to be an accountant, they aren’t the only abilities that aspiring accountants must develop as they prepare for their careers. “Soft skills” may be less specialized and less quantifiable, but they are also integral to achieving success in the field of accounting.
Soft Skills and How to Develop Them
Employers generally classify candidates’ skills into two types: hard and soft. Hard skills are the technical, objective abilities that students learn during their education. For example, hard skills in accounting might include preparing various kinds of tax documents or financial statements. Soft skills, on the other hand, are less specific or fact-based and are more subjective. Though hard skills are usually taught of as teachable, students can work to develop soft skills through their experiences inside and outside the classroom. Students aren’t likely to receive a degree or certificate stating that they are a good communicator or that they are proficient in problem-solving or critical-thinking, but that doesn’t minimize the importance of developing these skills.
Unlike hard skills, which may require more specialized teaching, students can learn soft skills in a variety of circumstances, often without having to pay to learn. Internships, for example, are a great way for students to develop both kinds of skills. Through group projects in the accounting, general education and elective college courses they are already taking, students can develop teamwork skills. Participating in extracurricular events can build a student’s networking skills. Even volunteering or working at a job that isn’t necessarily related to accounting can help individuals develop soft skills like interacting and communicating with a variety of people. These skills can help aspiring accountants build strong relationships with future clients and colleagues.
The Importance of Soft Skills
Obviously, the skills students learn in college accounting courses and through accounting internships are important for success in their future careers. However, being good at preparing tax documents, organizing financial records and at preparing, calculating and examining financial statements isn’t enough to be successful. To be the best possible accountant, possessing soft skills is essential. In fact, soft skills are often far more essential to building the important accountant-client relationship than are actual accounting skills. The global Association of Chartered Certified Accountants advises accounting students that their soft skills, like communication, time-management and problem-solving, matter as much as their technical skills do.
Both hard and soft skills are necessary for achieving students’ goals of becoming successful accountants. By working hard in class and on internship assignments and by actively taking part in work experiences and fun extracurricular activities, aspiring accountants can develop their soft skills even as they work to increase and perfect their hard skills.