You wouldn’t be surprised if we say that good grades aren’t enough for a flourishing career in finance and accounting.
Today’s competitive workplace demands that finance and accounting professionals demonstrate the most up-to-date and relevant skills to thrive in the industry. From outstanding interpersonal skills and analytical abilities to domain-specific knowledge and expertise, skills in finance and accounting encompass a wide range of soft skills and technical proficiency.
Although the terms finance and accounting are often used interchangeably, the two are fundamentally different. While finance refers to how an organization or individual manages its capital, accounting records a business or individual’s financial transactions. Knowledge of both disciplines is vital to evaluating a company’s financial health.
If you are actively exploring careers in finance and accounting, here’s a guide on the top finance and accounting skills, including financial analyst skills and financial management skills employers are looking for while hiring.
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Technical Skills in Finance and Accounting
The finance and accounting domain has many careers, such as financial analyst, finance manager, financial assistant, credit analyst, chief financial officer, and more. Regardless of the job title and the years of experience you have, most employers look for the following technical skills in finance and accounting:
1. General business knowledge
Finance and accounting professionals have to collaborate with other departments in an organization for their day-to-day activities. Therefore, professionals in finance and accounting must have a strong business awareness to serve as partners across multiple departments, interact with clients in other industries, make critical decisions, and develop strategies. General business understanding, financial management skills and knowledge of business standard practices will help finance and accounting professionals better understand their client’s unique financial needs and provide the financial assistance they need.
2. Data analysis
An organization’s greatest asset is its financial data. It influences key business decisions and is an indicator of the success of an organization. However, raw financial data is of no value unless it can be used to derive insights and make informed business decisions. Therefore, analyzing and compiling data is one of the top skills employers look for in prospective finance and accounting employees. Knowledge of data query language (DQL) is desirable for accountants because it will help them extract meaningful information from large data volumes, identify patterns and errors in business data sets, and recognize fraud.
3. Ability to prepare financial statements
Financial statements give a clear picture of the financial health of an organization. These are written records detailing a company’s financial performance and business activities. Financial statements primarily include balance sheets (overview of a company’s equity, assets, and liabilities), income statements (overview of expenses, revenues, net income, and earnings per share), and cash flow statements (a measure of how well a company generates cash to fund investments, operating expenses, and pay its debts). If you aspire to be a finance or accounting professional, the ability to prepare financial statements is a must.
4. Knowledge of accounting practices
Generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) is an assortment of accounting standards, regulations, and procedures administered by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB). Industries and companies across the United States must follow GAAP in their accounting practices, and accountants must be familiar with GAAP for evaluating financial records. Professionals in finance and accounting must be conversant with the regulatory standards related to public and corporate finances to ensure compliance with financial reporting requirements and preserve the integrity of the organization’s accounting practices.
5. Technology expertise
Advancements in cloud computing, automation, and software mean that accounting and finance professionals must be up-to-date with the latest technological developments. While general spreadsheet software and account reconciliation software are standard, accountants must also have a working knowledge of financial reporting and analysis, database reporting, project management, and compliance. Proficiency in tax preparation software is also needed for professionals who deal with taxes. Other specific software and tools that can enhance the skillset include enterprise resource planning (ERP), business analytics software, advanced modeling techniques, SQL, Microsoft Visual Basic skills, etc.
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Soft Skills in Finance and Accounting
Having technical and domain-specific knowledge is not the only criterion to survive in today’s corporate culture. A career in finance and accounting entails having a repertoire of soft skills or interpersonal abilities for meaningful communication with your colleagues, clients, and other stakeholders.
Here’s a list of the top five soft skills that employers in the finance sector look for in potential employees:
6. Critical thinking
A critical thinker can analyze a situation from a balanced perspective. As a financial professional, clients and customers will expect you to evaluate a problem logically, be it a balance sheet or the performance of a stock. The ability to consider an issue from all angles allows professionals to apply their finance and accounting knowledge to identify errors, make critically-informed decisions, and propose solutions. Since an ill-thought-out decision can cost companies a fortune, employers look for candidates who they can count on for independent thinking, research, reasoning, and problem-solving.
7. Written and verbal communication
Being finance or accounting professional does not mean that you play around with numbers all day. You must communicate with colleagues, clients, managers, and industry professionals. You may be required to conduct briefings, translate financial information into layman’s terms, write reports, record and analyze data, work with team members, and collaborate with clients. No matter how strong your number game is, your written and verbal communication skills must be on point to deal with people daily.
Good negotiation skills allow finance professionals to secure long-term business relations as one of the most significant financial analyst skills. Whether you discuss a customer’s payment terms, review departmental budgets, or close an important business deal, negotiation lets you fight your corner without miffing parties or compromising valuable relationships. Failure to reach a middle ground creates dissatisfaction and damages crucial business relations, which could, in turn, result in financial loss for a business.
9. Time management
Efficient time management skills will take you long in a finance career. Whether you create your daily to-do list, have an organized calendar, or set up reminders on your devices, being on top of your schedule is necessary. It is equally important to make your plan flexible to accommodate last-minute changes without compromising priorities. Good time management skills will make you an asset to the company and demonstrate your reliability when meeting project deadlines.
10. Management experience
Although not an essential skill, management experience is often highly beneficial for professionals in the finance sector, especially those aspiring to take on managerial roles. A person with management experience will be able to supervise teams and display leadership skills when the situation demands. Demonstrating good management skills will help you work closely with people and prove your ability to manage teams and assume leadership roles in your career.
Develop the Right Skills for Finance Roles
By now, it’s pretty evident that you need both hard and soft skills to excel in finance careers. From fine-tuning your financial reporting skills to sharpening your critical-thinking abilities, broadening your general and niche skillsets is the key to establishing a career in finance.
An efficient way to develop these in-demand skills is by taking an MBA course specializing in analytics, strategy and leadership, marketing, finance, operations, or HR.
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What are the top 3 skills for a financial analyst?
While it is impractical to pinpoint the top skills for financial analysts, employers typically look for strategic thinking, analytical and financial modeling skills, business acumen, knowledge of ERP systems and related technologies, time management skills, and organizational skills, to name a few.
What skills do accountants need?
The top skills of an accountant include general business knowledge, data analysis, ability to prepare financial statements, technology expertise, knowledge of accounting practices, and soft skills such as critical thinking, written and oral communication, negotiation, and time management.
What are hard skills in accounting?
Examples of hard skills in accounting include knowing how to prepare and read financial statements and other financial reports, proficiency in using accounting software and related technologies, planning and implementing accounting controls, and developing financial reporting methods.