When you think of accountants, you probably picture someone toiling away in solitude, crunching numbers and sorting through stacks of paper. But today’s accountants often find themselves interacting with others as they gather information and report results. To become an accountant, you’ll need a combination of interpersonal and mathematics-related skills, as well as an emphasis on organization and ethics.
Although accountants need an aptitude for finance and accounting software, communication skills and organization are also top qualities.
Basic Accounting Skills
An accountant, first and foremost, must have an affinity for numbers. You’ll be spending most of your day dealing with spreadsheets and data extracts, and manipulating numbers to get information will become your trade. Although many accountants today rely heavily on accounting software, you’ll still need to have an aptitude for math in order to make sure the information you’re getting back is correct.
Depending on the type of work you plan to do, you may also spend a great deal of time keeping up with the latest tax laws, which may require an ability to research. Since much of your work will be done using accounting software, it can help to learn tools like QuickBooks or Sage. Software choices can vary from one employer to the next, so chances are the tool you’ll learn won’t be the one you’ll use. However, many of the basic techniques you learn transfer well from one software tool to the next.
Soft Skills for Accountants
You may not hear as much about it, but there are some soft skills most successful job applicants will have in accounting. You’ll need solid interpersonal abilities, including both written and verbal communication skills. You should also be able to work as part of a team and, if you hope someday to move your way up the career ladder, hone your leadership and supervisory abilities.
Many expected soft skills for accountants apply, as well. Traits like organization and attention to detail, problem-solving abilities and deductive reasoning probably won’t surprise you when they show up on the list. If you can have these traits and you’re interviewing for an accounting position, make sure you emphasize them.
Education and Accounting Experience
Accountants will usually need at least a bachelor’s degree to qualify for a job, with some employers even requiring a master’s. Once you get your diploma, consider becoming licensed as a Certified Public Accountant. Depending on where you live, you’ll need between 120 and 150 credit hours in combination with experience in order to qualify to sit for the CPA exam.
There are ways to get accounting experience even if you have an empty resume. Some accounting firms bring on interns for little to no pay in exchange for giving the on-the-job experience needed to land work. Professional organizations can also help connect you with people who can help find the perfect job for you.
Ethics and Professional Considerations
One of the most important things about the accounting experience and education you gain is that you develop the strict code of personal ethics necessary to maintain a healthy career in the field. You’ll need to ensure you’re always honest and that you hold your employers to those same standards. In doing so, you’ll establish yourself as someone who can be trusted with other people’s money.
If you generate financial statements, you’ll also be expected to understand and follow the generally accepted accounting principles, which are required if your organization distributes those statements outside the company. For organizations that are publicly traded, you’ll also need to be aware of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s rules as you’re creating financial statements.
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