The skills employers want – and how to get them

  • Posted by: AD Group
  • 10 January 2019

Source: AAT Comment

Your skill set needs updating. Employers need accountants who can do more than just the accounts, but they’re struggling to recruit the people they need. Some have even told us that they’ve given up on hiring experienced accountants, and are focusing instead on apprentices. It’s time to change that.

The fact of the matter is that the skills sought by employers are easy to learn. In fact, you probably have most of them already, but simply may not have applied them in your work yet. So we asked a team of four coaches to help us put together a training plan. Our team includes forward-thinking accountants Anna Goodwin, Andrew Sullivan and Alex Falcon Huerta, and professional-services recruitment specialist Jemma Bailey.

Broaden your industry knowledge
Anna Goodwin: It’s important to be aware of how technology has changed and how you can use this to provide a better service to the clients or stakeholders you work with.

Jemma Bailey: Accountants who stick to one role or one industry are often the most at risk. Companies often like accountants who are adaptable with their approach, who have experience working in different environments and who are confident with change and challenges. Those who have stuck to one role should seek out extracurricular training to develop their skill set or ask for more responsibility within their own organisation to broaden their skills.

Step outside your comfort zone
Alex Falcon Huerta: Modern accountancy is much faster-paced than before and things change all the time. A lot of people are used to working at their own speed and, when they come into a job that’s digital, it can be a shock to the system.

Jemma Bailey: Many people become stuck in their everyday practices and less inclined to try new ways of carrying out tasks, but in order to improve your adaptability you should do the complete opposite. Seek out new opportunities, get involved in challenging situations and step outside of your comfort zone. If you continually push yourself to do new things, you will instinctively learn to adapt to new situations, which will help your finance career in the long term.

Anna Goodwin: Download some of the cloud accounting software – for example, Xero or QuickBooks – and play around with it to see which package you prefer to use and which one you believe your clients will find easier to use as we move towards the implementation of Making Tax Digital. The main thing is to make yourself familiar with the package so you can be helpful to your clients.

Ask the right questions
Anna Goodwin: Many business owners feel unhappy and fearful about their numbers, so it is essential that you, as an accountant, put them at ease.

Ask clients for feedback by sending them a survey on how your firm’s communications could be improved. If you aren’t in practice, ask non-financial colleagues what information would help them to do their jobs better. Prior to taking on a client, think about the whole subject of their business. What are their competitors doing? How can they price more profitably? Have they thought about using sensitivity analysis and benchmarking? If your skills are rusty in these areas, then book yourself on a course.

Network, network, network
Jemma Bailey: I would advise all finance professionals to go to industry events and network with other finance professionals in their sector.

Anna Goodwin: Think about what sort of relationships it would be useful for you to build – for example, with small businesses, franchises, banks or other accountants. Research the networking groups in your area and book a spot.

Do your research
Anna Goodwin: To serve your clients or stakeholders, you’ve got to really know them. You’ve also got to know their competition. Research is becoming an increasingly important part of accountants’ day-to-day work. Why not put together a SWOT analysis, identifying the company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, based on your research and their performance thus far. Then look for the issues that you can help the company with.

Think outside the box
Andrew Sullivan: It’s hard to market yourself as a ‘creative accountant’ due to that phrase’s connotations, but accountancy is increasingly all about problem solving, and you have to think creatively to determine how to tackle to work.

Logic puzzles are a great way to train your brain to solve problems. And the great thing is that there are so many puzzles available for free on the internet – just Google ‘logic puzzles’. Another way to get you thinking differently about a problem is by using mind maps. It really helps if you visualise an issue and break it down into manageable parts.

With soft skills such as creative thinking, conflict resolution and problem solving becoming highly sought after in many roles including accountancy, there’s no better time to up-skill yourself!