What makes a great accountant
So you’re wondering if you have what it takes to be an accountant in public practice. While memorising the legislation might seem like the place to start, it’s not actually the thing that will make you excel. What skills does it take to make a great accountant? Here’s what I think.
An understanding of mathematics
Starting with the accounting stereotype, an understanding of basic mathematics is a must. You don’t need to be able to understand high-end calculus but addition, subtraction, multiplication and division need to be functions you are comfortable with (as well as some basic algebra). Don’t worry though – we’ll let you use a calculator!
Being comfortable with computers
While you may have covered how to fill in manual T-ledgers at university, it’s extremely unlikely you will ever need to use this skill again. What you will be using on a daily basis is a variety of computer applications – accounting packages in the cloud, on the desktop, and of course spreadsheets and word processing applications. And this is on top of other applications like email and digital file storage, searching for information on the internet, logging in and using websites (for example banking) and interacting with government-run systems. You don’t need to be an expert in IT, but you do need to know (or be willing to learn) your way around a computer.
Communication & interpretation skills
As well as being able to understand what people are asking of you, you will need to be able to explain what has been done (or needs to be done) to people with varying understandings of tax law (and computing skills). You will also need to be able to interpret tax law, either occasionally or on a regular basis, depending on your speciality, and apply it appropriately. Communication can make or break relationships, be it with clients or other employees, so while this may be seen as a soft skill, it should not be neglected.
A willingness to learn and adapt
If there are two things guaranteed to be constantly changing, it’s tax legislation and technology. You need to be able to keep up with the changes in both – the legislation through training and newsletters, and technology through all means you have available. Each client you deal with will also have different systems and information they require, most software packages update at least annually, and even internally there will occasionally be a technology shift so large (cloud accounting anyone?) that internal processes will change, so be ready to learn something new every day!
Excelling at problem solving
Being good at problem solving is what sets a great accountant apart from an average one. While it’s nice to think everything will be simple and clear-cut, this is not always the case – there will be problems, there will be grey areas, and there will be someone who needs to sort it out. Nothing shows that you know what you’re doing quite as well as taking a tangled mess of issues and sorting it out – and this skill in particular is what I believe it takes to be a great accountant.