7 Skills CPAs Need — and How to Get Them

By Robert Half on October 16, 2020 at 3:00pm

Becoming a CPA can be an important milestone along your career path. The CPA credential can help open doors to an array of exciting and challenging jobs and leadership roles. You’ll find today’s CPAs working as internal auditors, IT managers, forensic experts, tax accountants, compliance officers, chief financial officers and CEOs of major corporations.

Employers know that CPAs are accountants who have met strict educational, testing and on-the-job requirements. However, when hiring CPAs, especially for management positions, they will often look for candidates who have an array of additional skills and attributes. Following are seven skills that many employers look for in today’s CPAs:

1. Up-to-date tax knowledge

Successful accountants stay current with tax laws and mandates, which change constantly. To best serve their clients and organizations, everyone from payroll administrators to tax accountants to financial planners should take continuing professional education (CPE) courses in federal and state taxation.

2. Business acumen

The further finance professionals advance in the workplace, the more they will be asked to advise upper management, assemble company-wide reports and provide big-picture perspectives. So, business acumen is a must-have skill for CPAs.

The better you understand how an organization’s various departments operate and interact, the more successful you’ll be in your current position and long-term career.

3. Presentation prowess

CPAs must know how to present information in a clear, concise and compelling manner — especially for nontechnical audiences. The key to being a good presenter isn’t reading from a PowerPoint deck, though. It’s persuading and relating to the audience by telling stories, making analogies and speaking naturally. (These presentation strategies are even more important when you’re trying to engage audiences via video conferencing.)

4. Technical abilities

Successful CPAs are the ones who master their company’s software and systems. Developing advanced skills in Excel, the workhorse of almost all accounting and finance departments, is essential. Other in-demand IT knowledge valuable for CPS to possess includes QuickBooks (for small and midsize companies), structured query language (SQL), enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and business intelligence software.

Also, it’s becoming increasingly important for all financial professionals to anticipate technological changes in their workplace. Accounting automation and other technology trends are revolutionizing accounting and finance work. To future-proof your CPA career, you’ll want to learn about robotic process automation (RPA), machine learning, advanced analytics, and more, sooner than later.

5. Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence — the ability to relate and engage well with others — can also help you advance in your CPA career. A recent Robert Half report on the future of work underscores that “human skills” such as empathy will top the list of vital skills that workers and business leaders will need in the future workplace.

However, demonstrating other forms of emotional intelligence, such as empathy, compassion and the ability to understand nuance, is already crucial for success in the current work environment. You can be confident that many employers highly value emotional intelligence and will make a point to look for it in potential hires.

See this post to learn about other soft skills essential for today’s accounting and finance jobs.

6. Additional auditing training

Most CPAs are well-versed in auditing since it is one of the four components of the qualifying exam. But accountants who are interested in helping companies evaluate their methods and performance should consider pursuing additional training in auditing.

Working in internal audit can be a rewarding career, and it is a profession that has been evolving in recent years. Businesses of all types look to their internal auditors to help them increase efficiency, manage risk, evaluate IT systems and business processes, and much more.

7. Management and leadership strength

If you’re hoping your CPA career will one day take you to the management level at a company, or maybe even to the C-suite, you’ll want to take action now to start earning relevant leadership experience.

One way to develop management skills is by requesting assignments that put you in charge of a project or team. Also, look for leadership opportunities outside of your organization. Online courses are one option. Also, professional associations can be good resources for learning and development opportunities, and they offer networking opportunities, too.

Pursuing other in-demand credentials, such as a master’s degree in accounting, an MBA or a Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) designation, can complement your CPA designation and help prepare you for a financial or business leadership role as well.

Be proactive about gaining new skills

To expand your CPA skills, find out what professional development opportunities are currently available through your employer. If you need to look outside the company, ask your manager if the business would be willing to provide financial support or at least offer you the schedule flexibility to pursue additional training or learning. If the skills you want to earn can benefit your employer, there’s a good chance the company will be open to helping you earn those skills, if the resources are available.

Not all CPA skills can be taught, of course. To boost your communication abilities, you could volunteer to write for internal or industry publications. To learn managerial skills or improve your general business knowledge, consider asking a leader in your organization if you can shadow them or request that you be paired with a mentor. Even if you work remotely, these arrangements are possible.

Adding to your CPA skills can help you reach the destinations you’ve set on your career map, and it can increase your job satisfaction, too. But it’s down to you to take the initiative to make your CPA career everything you want it to be.

Want to learn everything you need to know about the CPA — and then some? Check out this post.

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