Essential job skills in the accounting profession encompass more than the ability to crunch numbers. While technical job skills are obviously critical in accounting jobs, the field is constantly evolving, and your tasks include more than completing expense sheets and accounts payable reports. Whether you're working in compliance, tax, risk management or many other subcategories, you will encounter demands that go far beyond the figures.  

Forty-three per cent of Canadian CFOs surveyed recently by Robert Half said they give equal weight to both specialized and nontechnical, or soft skills, when evaluating candidates for either staff-level or upper-level accounting and finance positions. Soft skills quoted in this survey were business acumen, leadership, communication, relationship building and intellectual curiosity. Let’s take a deeper dive into these areas:

General business knowledge

The roles of accounting and finance professionals are expanding. Given the frequent interaction with other departments, today's accounting professionals need sound decision-making, negotiation and strategic-thinking skills. It's also important to be able to see the big picture and understand how your accounting role impacts the overall organization.

Information technology expertise

Accounting and technology job skills can go hand in hand. The use of a number of finance-specific software programs, such as Hyperion and QuickBooks, is a given in your role. And cloud computing is becoming increasingly popular at many organizations and accounting firms. Some other examples of in-demand accounting technology skills are:

  • Advanced Excel ability
  • ERP experience (e.g., SAP, Oracle)
  • Expertise in data analytics, advanced modeling techniques and SQL
  • Knowledge of business intelligence software (e.g., IBM Cognos)
  • Microsoft Visual Basic capability

Communication skills

As an accountant, chances are good that you work with different departments and communicate with a wide array of colleagues or clients on a daily basis. The people you speak with may not be as savvy with the numbers as you are, so you need to be able to present information in an easy-to-digest manner.

On a daily basis, you could be communicating with others via email, phone conversations, in-person meetings or presentations you give. Relaying information clearly and concisely in these instances goes a long way toward supporting your credibility.

Leadership abilities

Accounting professionals need to be ambitious self-starters who can develop new insights and motivate and engage team members. While the partners at your firm or leaders in your department are managing the business side of the organization, you may need to serve as a source of aid when colleagues need help navigating a particular program or managing their first busy-season audit.

Additionally, your managers may look to you for fresh ideas regarding how the organization can ensure continuity of service to clients, improve compliance procedures or address a host of other issues.

Customer service orientation

If you work in a public accounting firm, it's essential for you to be able to retain current customers and bring in new clients. If you work in corporate accounting jobs, you must meet the needs of the organization's other departments and managers. Either way, solid customer service skills are critical.

Accounting professionals can demonstrate good customer service by truly listening to the needs and concerns of your clients, whether they're internal or external. A positive attitude can also go a long way, especially when stress levels are high. And be careful not to overpromise when it comes to deadlines or deliverables.

The need for these five job skills underscores the fact that accounting roles are expanding. As you take on more responsibilities, freshen and utilize your soft skills to remain a valuable member of the accounting team.