9 Essential accounting skills for career success

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 30 September 2022

Published 25 June 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

When it comes to career planning, the accountancy profession is an excellent choice. If you have the skills for accounting, by choosing to join the ranks of accountancy, you're giving yourself a stable and always-in-demand occupation. in the article, we look at the skills required for accounting and examine ways of improving accounting skills to enhance your chances of success.

What are accounting skills?

The skills needed for accounting revolve around the basic job description of being responsible for keeping the company accounts. This entails preparing accounting entries, keeping a company's financial records in order, checking the accounts receivable and payable, preparing and verify the financial statements (pre-tax and post-tax) and generating reports for various management teams. So, accountants need to be accurate in their role, have excellent numerical skills, organisational skills and time management skills.

Depending on the specific needs of a business, an accountant might also be tasked with identifying tax solutions to reduce cash outflows, maximise profits, minimise the tax levy and advising company management of their findings. In addition to these specific accounting skills, there are several skills for an accountant that influence an accountant's performance and allow them to realise their full potential in this demanding yet rewarding profession, such as skills in communication and leadership.

Related: Complete Guide: What Is Accounts Receivable

Examples of accounting skills

Whether you've been working as an accountant for years or you're just starting out in finance, getting a refresher on the skills required in the fast-changing accountancy field is always helpful. Consider these nine accounting skills:

Numerical skills

Although the tools have evolved and accountants now use spreadsheets, mathematics is the basis of the accounting profession. A good financial professional should look beyond the individual numbers and understand, based on their experience, whether they're correct. If there's a calculation or formula error that could compromise the final result of the calculations, they should be able to spot it quickly.

You may not need to have a bachelor's or master's degree in mathematics or finance to work in accounting. A bookkeeping diploma or similar is sometimes enough. But companies also value upskilling in their workforce and repay dedication to further learning with higher salaries. So, if you're interested in optimising your chances to land that ideal accountancy position, taking supplementary courses to improve your numerical accounting skills is never a bad idea.

Related: What is basic accounting (principles, jobs and education)

Time management

Accountants must be aware that there's a fine line between correctness and fussiness; that line is measured over a specific period and through a series of set deadlines. The ability to control your time to achieve the best possible results in a given context, which often includes managing several clients or solving emergencies, is a crucial part of the skills of an accountant.

Time management is part of the wider accounting skill of an organisation. Being able to effectively organise your physical and digital files, develop and maintain a coding system and use your calendar to maximum effect are important skills of an accountant.

Communication skills

Since accounting for a company means you'll be working with various colleagues and clients of the company, communication is a key skill of an accountant. You may spend a portion of your day responding to emails and communicating with customers or clients, so it's important to be skilled at being able to put across information succinctly and in a timely manner.

Being able to communicate skillfully means you're able to successfully extract the necessary information you need and can complete tasks to a high standard. So, it's necessary to learn the different styles of communication and be able to switch between them in order to best address the communication needs of a given scenario.

Analytical capabilities

This ability to analyse, predict and visualise future scenarios, and provide advice and recommendations to improve business performance, are crucial skills for accounting. Many companies invest in training programmes to develop these essential skill sets–look to work with companies ready to commit to their financial prowess.

Excel skills

Even with a wide range of accounting and bookkeeping tools, contemporary accounting continues to favour using a primary tool: Microsoft Excel. The programme remains the cornerstone of any accountant's IT skills, thanks to its ease of use and its largely customisable nature. This software has come a long way since its days as a simple spreadsheet – it now combines reporting and forecasting capabilities. A solid grounding in the programme and its more advanced features is part of the essential skill set for an accountant.

The popularity Excel enjoys means it's incredibly commonplace in companies worldwide. If you're worried that you can't competently use Excel, there are countless online and offline training resources, both paid and free, to acquire and hone your spreadsheet skills.

Intellectual flexibility

While companies don't really expect their wider staff to have specific accounting knowledge, an accountant should understand and relate to its activities. Arguably, every single business activity and department needs to be regularly assessed by a qualified accountant.

In some cases, accountants also deal with several clients working across very different sectors. That's why an accountant needs to combine a flexible understanding of industrial and commercial fields, trends, and demands with their innate affinity for accuracy and precision. Because of this, accountants often choose to specialise in a particular field where they can provide in-depth advice within a specific environment.

Computer programming

Programming is an essential aspect of the modern accountant's skills: not to design new programmes, but to customise existing tools to your own needs and those of your company. And not just Excel, but also more specific company applications. This programming makes it possible to extract the required information, process and cross-reference the data, and provide an objective analysis of the final results. Familiarity with programming languages such as Structured Query Language (SQL) and Python can give you a much-needed edge over others in your profession – making you more likely to land the job of your dreams.

Of course, accountants rely heavily on the IT department to help out with program adaptations, but for those working in startups or even for themselves, it helps if you can add this in-demand skill to your financial resume. Not to mention the IT team will be overjoyed if you already speak the same “language” as they do.

Attention to detail

Not only does an accountant need to understand every aspect of the business their company is involved in, but they also have to do it in the most precise, skilled and attentive way as possible. Dealing inefficiently or ineffectually with a massive amount of data every day can turn a tiny error into a macroscopic deviation. In turn, this can significantly impact the full operational capabilities of a business or organisation.

So, it's important that a stellar accountant has equally stellar attention to detail. Attention to detail is mostly an innate ability, but by training in skills of analysis and decision-making, you can enhance your skills in paying attention to detail.

Assertiveness and leadership

An accountant may not be the first professional that springs to mind when you think of leadership in business. In fact, accountants play a fundamental role in corporate governance. Therefore, they must be willing and able to communicate effectively with all business areas and be skilled at arguing their positions and opinions with clarity and authority.

Often, because of the somewhat esoteric nature of an accountant's work, they may be called on to suggest or even make challenging business decisions. This makes assertiveness and leadership important skills for an accountant, as an accountant needs to be confident in their level of expertise and have a solid ethical foundation to help them make the right decision for their company or client.

Tips for improving accounting skills

To improve your accounting skills, it's important to keep accountable for your effectiveness in all of the accounting skills listed above. This includes being prepared to continually update your knowledge to keep up with changes in legislation and technology.

You can also boost your effectiveness as an accountant by following the below tips.

Gain industry-specific knowledge

Since accountants work with clients in different sectors, it helps to have specific knowledge about the way the sectors that they're working with operate within their company. This includes the working systems and policies of the companies. It's also helpful for accountants to gain industry-specific experience within a sector, as employers are often looking for skilled accountants who have a proven understanding of how their industry works.

Learn to be adaptable

Accountancy is a varied profession, so it helps to be skilled at being adaptable in your role. The most skilled accountants tend to be the ones most able to adapt to change and move with the times, so learning flexibility is a must when it comes to improving accounting skills.

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