There is increasing pressure on and expectation for accountants to possess useful, high-level soft skills in addition to the required technical skills for many roles.
This is due in part to the pressures, changes and challenges we’ve all experienced of working from home, and the increased digitisation to support this. The success experienced largely across the board in this new landscape of work means that these new soft skills learnt from working remotely are likely to remain useful in the future as flexible working becomes the norm. Accountants must perform more than simply number-crunching, with an increasing expectation to drive strategy within business, whether operating in-house or client-facing within accountancy firms.
The future will require adaptability, the ability to perform well under pressure, solid communication skills, remote management and teamworking skills. These are going to be increasingly important if not vital to the smooth running of accounting responsibilities.
What it takes to be an accountant
Accountancy as a discipline requires a range of specific tasks and processes, and in order to be successful you need the corresponding knowledge, experience and technical skills. These technical skills vary depending on the specific role and seniority level, such as software knowledge and task-specific knowledge e.g. profit & loss, forecasting reports, financial modelling and so on.
Finance departments are a crucial link between the board and other operational departments within the business, which means technical tasks like managing cashflow, reports and forecasting are crucial and need to be properly communicated for their strategic value to the board and C-suite level executives. This link between the technical and the strategic reflects the need for accountancy professionals to have both technical and soft skills to thrive in the current market.
This ‘lynchpin’ of sorts means that those within the profession need to be great communicators, with the ability to deal with a variety of stakeholders.
What are technical accounting skills?
Technical accounting skills relate to the primary task at hand – this will include software and programmes used, accounting qualifications and tasks that are relevant to the role.
What soft skills are needed for accounting?
Soft skills are those skills that make someone well suited to an accountancy job but aren’t specifically task-related skill. This can include communication skills, leadership, time management skills, attitude and so on.
Accountants are increasingly sought for their soft skills, their strategic and commercial value, the strategic insight they can add and communicate clearly with several stakeholders (many of whom are potentially less financially literate), their ability to respond well under pressure as well as adapt when change is needed.
The importance of interpersonal skills in accounting:
As mentioned above, accountants need to communicate with several stakeholders, possibly within different functions and at various levels of seniority. Financial information needs to be clearly communicated, often to non-finance executives in an accessible way. This calls for diplomacy and an ability to operate professionally while gaining stakeholder confidence.
How to assess soft skills in accountants
Assessing candidates for their soft skills can be trickier than quantifying their technical skills, which is rather more straightforward. Competency-based questions at interview are always a good idea, adopting hypothetical situations that help uncover some of their soft skills.
‘If x problem occurred, how would you deal with that? At what stage (and to whom) would you escalate the problem?’
Anything that will help uncover their communication style, resilience and adaptability under pressure.
At Edward Mann, we would be happy to offer bespoke support to help you find the soft skills during your finance and accounting recruitment efforts. With our database and deep networks, we are also able to source high-calibre candidates to suit the specific needs of your business goals to make sure you don’t miss out in the future.