There are few professionals like accountants when it comes to mastering skills like attention to detail, understanding complex issues like tax, or, of course, the required training to effectively do the job. However, when it comes to the workplace, there is more to being successful than the hard skills required by the accounting profession. Soft skills are often just as important, and not developing them can potentially hold back your career.
What are the 'soft' skills?
You would struggle to find a business that doesn't recognise the value of employees with what we call soft skills. Hard skills, such as professional qualifications and technical ability, are the ones that allow us to do the job in the first place. Soft skills are the non-technical, interpersonal, and social qualities that allow an individual to work effectively and efficiently with others.
Some of the most important ones for accountants are likely to be:
- Time and task management
As with most jobs, accountancy can sometimes be all about the timely resolution of tasks and the ability to triage the workload. That means more than just recognising when the returns are due for filing. For example, there is a real benefit to being able to understand the needs of clients and weave them into your own workflow. Hitting deadlines isn't usually negotiable, so being able to manage your time and workload is a priority.
- Communication and active listening
What you do as an accountant can be difficult to understand for people who do not have your hard skills. The ability to explain something in the right way so you are understood clearly is very valuable to your clients and often colleagues. Similarly, there is a soft skill in knowing when to listen and absorb information effectively. Listening attentively, and the more advanced skill of active listening, is far less common than you would think, but it can really make a difference to how effective you are in your role.
- Teamwork and collaborative practice
Do you put good team player on your CV? Most of us do, but to be able to understand and focus down on the needs of the team is much easier said than done. Some people seem to collaborate with ease, but for many, it requires concentrated effort. Accountants do not work in a vacuum, and they need to be able to understand the overall needs of the workplace, and usually clients while working with others to reach goals.
- Conflict resolution and emotional intelligence
When you work with others, it is almost inevitable that somewhere along the way, there will be conflict. What matters is how you deal with that conflict and resolve the situation. This skill is very closely allied with your ability to manage your own and others' emotions. What we usually call Emotional Intelligence (EQ), the ability to understand your own and others' emotional state and act appropriately, is a core component of resolving conflicts in the workplace. In a similar way, dealing with clients occasionally means delivering bad news in terms of their financial state. Again, this is an area where your EQ will come to the fore and smooth the way.
- Problem-solving and adaptability
The accountancy world can be a fast-changing one, as the current economic climate so clearly demonstrates. Problems are going to occur as the needs of the job change, and you need to be able to not only recognise the problem but also solve it and then adapt to new ways of working. In many ways, this is the opposite of a large part of the job, which relies on methodical working and tried and tested practices. That doesn't reduce the importance of being able to problem-solve and implement change in any way. If you want proof of the importance of these skills, ask yourself how often a client has told you their old account was 'stuck in their ways'.
Are soft skills really that important?
Like any skillset, you can probably say the importance of soft skills will vary depending on the work environment, but most accountants will almost certainly need them daily. One good way to assess the importance of a skill in the workplace is to reverse it. So, from the list above, if you had an individual without them, you would get someone who cannot work in a team, has little or no consideration for others, does not manage their workload very well, is stuck in their ways, will not adopt changes, misses vital information through not listening, and cannot deal with conflict.
Doesn't sound like a particularly good employee, does it?
From the point of view of advancing your career and getting that new job you want, soft skills are not only desirable, but they are also just as important as your professional qualifications and your experience.
If we can be of any help with your job search, please get in touch.