In-demand technical abilities and certifications have long been the keys that open doors to top accounting and finance jobs. But today, many employers specifically seek experienced professionals who can bring a range of nontechnical skills to their position, as well.
Once viewed primarily as nice-to-have qualities, soft skills — such as the ability to communicate effectively with non-finance audiences or to work collaboratively across departments — are now requirements for many accounting and finance roles. That includes consulting jobs.
Carrie Wentling, resource specialist for Robert Half Management Resources and director of member services at Financial Executives International (FEI), says, “Some of the attributes that employers value most in consultants are problem-solving, attention to detail, relationship-building and organizational skills. These abilities are critical for full-time as well as project-based work, as each assignment brings new challenges to work through — and new people to work with.”
She adds that flexibility and adaptability are also important qualities for consultants to possess. Being able to “anticipate what is coming next — good or bad” is also key, as Wentling explains: “Employers want consultants to analyze situations quickly, and clearly explain what needs to be done, and why and how.” To deliver on that expectation, consultants need to have a strong mix of technical and soft skills, she says.
The nontechnical skills that can help you stand out
Some of the abilities that Wentling highlights, such as adaptability and flexibility, are also listed in our latest Salary Guide as in-demand skills for accounting and finance jobs. Following is a closer look at some of the nontechnical abilities that can help you advance your accounting and finance or consulting career:
This character trait — albeit abstract — is important in any business setting. But it is particularly critical for professionals who handle financial information, intellectual property and other sensitive data. It’s also a top leadership trait: In recent Robert Half Management Resources surveys, both workers in general and CFOs cited integrity as the most important attribute for business leaders to possess.
Wentling noted that relationship-building is important for both full-time positions and consulting careers. But any accounting and finance professional who invests the time to build trust and credibility with their colleagues and clients is likely to see career benefits stem from that effort. Mastering the art of relationship-building also can help you to understand others’ challenges and make more valuable contributions to an employer. It will enable you to be a more effective leader, as well.
The nature of communication in business is changing rapidly due to new ways of sharing information, like social media and collaboration tools, and the growing volumes of data that companies are collecting and generating. The ability to synthesize and present financial data clearly and concisely has never been more critical for accounting and finance pros. So is the ability to maintain an effective two-way (i.e., talking and listening) dialogue with others inside and outside the organization. Polished public speaking skills are also valuable given the heightened profile of the finance function in businesses today.
A commitment to continuous learning
Individuals who are dedicated to lifelong learning position themselves for more successful careers because they’re able to adapt to change more easily. As business needs and environments shift, naturally inquisitive accounting and finance professionals who are proactive about their development will find they are able to stay ahead of the curve, rather than struggle behind it. Plus, businesses today emphasize innovation and expect that mindset from everyone in the organization, including the accounting and finance teams.
Openness to diverse perspectives
Accounting and finance professionals, including finance leaders, must be able to interact and collaborate with people from dramatically different backgrounds — and different generations. Communicating with, motivating and persuading different parties can require varied approaches, as well as emotional intelligence — that is, the ability to identify and manage your emotions and the emotions of others.
To advance your career, look for ways to build — and continually demonstrate — the above qualities to employers. Technical skills and certifications are still the things that hiring managers will look for first in the candidates they evaluate, according to Wentling. But demonstrated strength in the nontechnical areas that employers value and evidence of a strong work ethic can help to set you apart and allow you to take on positions of greater responsibility.
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This post was originally published in 2014 and has been updated to reflect more current information and insights.