Accountancy & Financial Management

5 Key Skills You Need for a Career in Accounting

Being an accountant involves more than just being good with numbers. It's also important for accountants to have a diverse range of skills in order to be successful.
Jevitha Muthusamy
Editorial Writer
5 Skills

A career in accounting can be rewarding and fulfilling, as it offers the opportunity to work with financial data, problem-solve, and help businesses and organisations make informed decisions. However, in order to accomplish all that, you will have to demonstrate a certain set of skills, and recruiters will be on the lookout for those when screening candidates as well.

Here are 5 top skills needed for a career in accounting, and some suggestions on how you can develop them as a graduate. 

1.    Attention to detail

Accountants must be able to accurately analyse and process big volumes of financial data, which requires a high level of attention to detail. It will be your job to ensure that all transactions are accounted for, and that there are no irregularities in the books.

In addition, much of accounting work also involves tracking down documents to corroborate both revenue and expenses (e.g. receipts, purchase orders, invoices, inventory lists, etc.). You will need a sharp eye to go through those and ensure that all figures are reported correctly. 

How to develop this: Try doing exercises that require attention to detail, such as proofreading or solving puzzles. You can also seek out coursework or internships that involve working with financial data and practicing careful analysis.

2.    Analytical skills

Another key part of accountants’ jobs is to break financial data down into meaningful and useful recommendations that can be used to make informed business decisions. You must also be able to spot patterns in financial data and identify what they indicate about an organisation’s financial health.

This isn’t just about staring at numbers, though. Accountants must have a solid grasp of how an organisation operates and how it makes and spends money. To do this, you must know where (or from whom) to get the information you need, and what are the right questions to ask.  

How to develop this: Keep a lookout for projects or internships that require data analysis, such as analysing a company's financial statements or creating a budget. You should also stay informed on broader business trends by reading financial news so you can draw more accurate conclusions.

3.    Communication skills

Accountants must be able to effectively communicate their findings and recommendations to clients and colleagues, both verbally and in writing.

This requires strong communication skills, including the ability to clearly present complex information in a way that is easy for others to understand.

Your work may also require you to negotiate with colleagues or enforce financial controls. For example, explaining to a frustrated division manager why their procurement request was rejected, or conveying internal finance processes to staff. Good communication skills are key to ensuring you do so professionally and tactfully. 

How to develop this: To improve your communication skills, consider taking public speaking or presentation courses, or seek out opportunities to present information to a group. You can also practice writing business reports or emails, and seek feedback from colleagues or mentors to improve your skills.

4.    Time management

Accountants often work with tight deadlines, so it's important to be able to manage your time effectively. This includes the ability to prioritise tasks, meet deadlines, and work efficiently.

This is easier said than done, especially if you have to do things like track down sales documents from colleagues in order to close accounts by the end of the financial year, or complete a complex external audit in time before an aggressive mergers and acquisition (M&A) deadline.

Keeping a cool head throughout and knowing how to pipeline multiple tasks will be essential to getting things done on time. 

How to develop this: Get in the habit of using a planner or scheduling tool to organise your tasks and set goals. You can also seek out coursework or internships that involve working under tight deadlines, as this will help you develop your ability to manage your time effectively under pressure.

5.    Professionalism

As an accountant, you'll be working with sensitive financial information, so it's important to maintain the highest level of professionalism at all times. This includes being ethical, reliable, and trustworthy, as well as maintaining confidentiality and adhering to professional standards and regulations. 

Information about professional accounting standards will be likely be taught during your university courses or Chartered Accountant programmes, so make sure you commit those to heart. However, what’s more important is knowing what you can or can’t reveal to others, as well as what personal code of ethics and conduct you want to adhere to as a professional. 

How to develop this: Seek out opportunities to work with or be mentored by experienced professionals in the field, so you can model their behaviour. You can also practice case study or role play exercises with career coaches so you know what you can or can’t divulge during an accounting interview/assessment centre.