Good news: accounting professionals who offer the tech, data analysis, and communication skills that employers are looking for will be in high demand this year. Here are some steps to enhance your accounting career.
By Johanna Leggatt
“It is always difficult to find good accountants, and that hasn’t changed,” says Benjamin Jotkowitz, director of an accounting recruitment firm, Benneaux.
“Across the industry, skilled accountants are in high demand.”
Acquiring these accounting skills, however, takes effort and a positive attitude towards change. Here are some tips on what accountants can do to ensure they enjoy a long and rising career in accounting.
1. Don’t fear technology
There is no escaping the fact that software skills are vital, says Jotkowitz.
“Back in the day, employers would nominate software proficiency as something they desired, but technical prowess is more of an expectation now,” he says.
This translates into fluency with accounting-specific software, such as Hyperion or Xero, as well as the software used by a broad range of business professionals.
“A lot of things are cloud-based now,” Jotkowitz says, “so accounting professionals who are very proficient in data-based applications and ERP [Enterprise Resource Planning] programs are well regarded.”
Regional Director Australia and New Zealand at Skillsoft, Rosie Cairnes says rather than fearing the onset of automation and technology, accountants need to embrace it.
“Automation frees up the talent pool to focus on business insights and work that adds value,” she says.
A healthy amount of curiosity is also vital for ambitious accountants, adds Cairnes.
If accountants have curiosity it puts them in a good position to grab hold of what new technologies offer, she explains.
“Accountants should also look at what the emerging technologies in their industry are. What are the productivity and collaboration tools that can be introduced?”
2. Learn to analyze data
It’s not enough to operate the systems that manage data – you need to be able to interpret that information as well.
This is especially pertinent if you are mid-career or at the senior level where there is a greater expectation of strategic analysis as part of your role.
“You need to be able to tell the story that the data presents,” says Jotkowitz.
“This leads to the importance of critical thinking in accountancy. When you look at a spreadsheet, do you see a bunch of numbers or is there a deeper story?”
Cairnes agrees that accountants who are able to think creatively and draw solutions from data are in high demand.
“Long-term planning and analysis are very important,” she says.
She argues that this can apply to junior accountants as well. Younger people, and those who are relatively new to the profession, should not underestimate their ability to contribute new thinking.
“If you have a good handle on these technologies and if you’re coming up with solid business recommendations, then that can provide a new way of doing things. Creative solutions are what people are looking for.”
3. Hone your communication skills
As repetitive tasks become increasingly automated, accountants need to offer the kind of skills that cannot be easily replicated by algorithms.
“This means the ability to relate information to clients who are not across jargon, and to display excellent written and verbal communication,” says Jotkowitz. “Clients want more of service now.”
The ability to communicate is important, whether you are an experienced accountant or new to the profession, says Cairnes.
“The most in-demand skills across many industries are often professional development skills like communication,” she says.
“Communication means not just what you say, but your ability to listen and understand what the organization is all about.”
4. Learn how to lead
An accountant with strong leadership skills is highly regarded, says Cairnes.
“There is a lot written about poor leadership and how it causes churn and lack of productivity, so strong leadership is really an evergreen skill.”
However, the kind of leadership skills accountants need has changed over the past two decades.
“Thanks to technology changing the way in which we work, leadership is more about collaboration and managing virtual teams,” Cairnes says.
“Our organizational structures are much flatter, too, so inevitably it’s not just executives that need leadership skills, it’s almost everybody in the organisation.”
If you want to brush up on leadership skills, Jotkowitz recommends management courses or seeking out a mentor.
“Put up your hand for that leadership role and see what happens,” he says. “Keep on pushing yourself.”
5. Seek sector-specific experience
Jotkowitz has noticed that many employers are looking for accountants with experience in their own sector.
“If they are recruiting in FMCG [fast-moving consumer goods, such as soft drinks, toiletries], then the employer will want candidates who have worked in that sector,” he says.
“So think strategically if you want to work in, for example, pharmaceuticals.”
While candidates are often convinced they can apply their skills across many sectors – and they’re often correct – employers value sector-specific experience.
“So, if you have an aged care role, it helps to have to have aged care experience,” says Jotkowitz. “That is the preference we are noticing.”