Soft skills are more important for accountants than ever

The finance world has evolved steadily over time, and the nature of accounting jobs have change along with it. It has become more important than ever for finance professionals to have the soft skills to complement their technical accounting expertise, yet employers often find these skills difficult to come by when hiring an accountant.

Is the industry doing enough to cultivate soft skills, and how can employers ensure they recruit professionals with the right skill sets? 

Call for greater focus on soft skills in the finance profession

The reach of today's accountants are far from being limited to spread sheets and taxes, it now spans across organisations, with accountants playing an important role in everyday business operations. Because of this, it's important that they are equipped with the abilities to collaborate with others and give good strategic advice.

In a recent presentation at the CCH Connections User Conference reported by Accounting Today, Maryland Association of CPAs' Chief Financial Officer Bill Sheridan highlighted the soft skill gap that has been created by the changing role of accountants.

"We're trained to do one thing, yet we need skills to do something entirely different," he said. "How do we address that? That's the issue."

"I think the secret lies in doing the things that the machines can't do…[because] it's going to get crazier before it gets better."

According to a recent study from LinkedIn, almost 60 per cent of hiring managers say that good soft skills are difficult to find. Similarly, 58 per cent of respondents claimed that a lack of soft skills actually inhibited the productivity of their organisations. UK accounting firm PKF's National Head of Training John Watkins says that this is because effective accounting is due to a combination of factors, not just technical skills.

"How you present yourself each day, how you interact with colleagues, handle a discussion, deal with problems, and manage your time, all contribute to your success as an accountant," he told the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA). "Soft skills are an essential part of your armoury."

Sharpening soft skills for accounting career success

Consequently, a lot of employers are now looking for accounting professionals that can go beyond just crunching figures and creating financial forecasts. One example of a company that's doing this is PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). 

"Over and above academic excellence, we look for qualities such as good character, professionalism, ethics, leadership and teamwork skills," said PwC Partner Evgenios Evgeniou to the ACCA. "We need people who are technically competent, but who have the courage, integrity and emotional intelligence to engage with clients."

Employers like PwC are increasingly looking for finance professionals that that work well in a team, are emotionally intelligent, and are able to serve customers in addition to the usual accounting duties. Bloomberg's 2016 job skills report highlights abilities that hiring managers in the finance industry are looking for. Communication skills were said to be important by close to three quarters of respondents, while 57 per cent said analytical thinking, around 55 per cent said teamwork, and 54 per cent said motivation, Other important abilities included strategic thinking, leadership and quantitative skills.

For companies that want to build commercial accounting teams with good soft skills, career site Monster suggests the following actions:

  • Create a job description emphasising soft skills.
  • Integrate them into the company values and branding.
  • Resist the pressure for a quick hire, focusing instead on finding a candidate with the right set of attributes over someone that can just do the job.
  • Use the interview and other parts of the recruitment process to pull out the soft skills of candidates.
  • Work with a recruitment consultant who can help identify candidates that are not only technically qualified, but have the personal attributes to fit into the company culture.

To find out more about how we can source skilled and well-rounded professionals to complement your finance team, get in touch with Durno Recruitment

Alex Harrison