Skills for a Successful Accounting Career

View all blog posts under Articles | View all blog posts under MAcc

Successful female accountant working at desk with laptop and calculator.

Anyone wishing to enter the field of accounting must obtain specialized education, certification and knowledge. But success requires more than just obtaining the correct degrees. To enjoy a successful accounting career, candidates should possess a laundry list of general talents and attributes that will help them not only to advance, but to work effectively every day.

Some of these important skills for accountants can be learned through programs such as University of North Dakota’s Master of Accountancy online. Other skills are more innate, based on a candidate’s personality and inclinations. Even for these types of skills, however, just knowing in advance what traits will be helpful on the job can prepare candidates for successful careers in accounting.

Six Skill Sets

On its website, staffing organization Robert Half lists six skill sets it considers essential for anyone wishing to land an accounting position at a top company.

  1. General business knowledge. Accountants are expected to interact frequently with other departments and participate fully in the day-to-day functioning of the business. They therefore need excellent decision-making, strategic thinking and negotiation skills — just like any other high-level professional. Accountants must also have the ability to see the big picture and understand how their role fits into the organization as a whole.
  1. Up-to-date technology expertise. The field of accounting is more technology-driven than many, and accountants need to stay up to date on their knowledge. Robert Half’s list of skills that accountants should have includes advanced Excel ability, enterprise resource planning (ERP) experience, expertise in big-data analysis, knowledge of business intelligence software, aptitude with Hyperion, and a working knowledge of QuickBooks. Basically, the more accounting and finance programs you are familiar with, the better.
  2. Communication skills. Companies are looking for accounting professionals who can collaborate with other departments, manage conflict and adapt to changing circumstances. Accountants also need to be able to explain complicated financial ideas in a way that non-accountants can understand. Communication is key.
  3. Leadership abilities. Accounting professionals need to be motivated self-starters who can contribute new insights, manage projects and motivate their team members, all while displaying solid leadership skills. The executives in your firm need to know that while they are busy, you can help your colleagues over tricky spots. You may also be expected to contribute fresh ideas and assist in improving the company’s methods and operation.
  1. Customer service orientation. Learn how to listen to the needs and concerns of your clients, whether they are internal or external. Keep a great attitude and adopt a can-do approach. At the same time, don’t overpromise on deliverables or deadlines. Don’t make your customers temporarily happy at the expense of reality.
  1. Specialized experience. Companies today are looking for accounting professionals with specialized experience in areas such as anti-money laundering, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, know your customer, Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review, the Dodd-Frank Act, and revenue recognition. Organizations such as the American Institute of CPAs offer courses in this area to help accounting candidates get up to speed.

Additional Skills for Success

In addition to these six skills, the website The Balance Careers suggests three more attributes that can make an accounting candidate stand out from the crowd.

  1. Analytical ability. It’s just part of the job. Accounting professionals must be able to read and interpret figures and data. This skill could apply in circumstances from filling out tax returns to auditing data to finding mistakes or fraud. Accountants have to be accurate, numbers-minded and analytical.
  1. Detail-oriented mindset. They say the devil is in the details, and nowhere is this truer than in accounting. Every day, accounting professionals have to deal with data that they must inspect, understand, analyze and interpret. A natural eye for detail is an indispensable tool in the accountant’s arsenal.
  1. Organizational/Business skills. Whether you’re juggling 10 clients’ tax returns or managing the finances of several departments within a company, organizational skills will keep you on track — and maybe save your sanity, too. Good organizational talents are definitely a cornerstone of good accounting.

A Mix of Skills

In accounting, as in any profession, the most talented practitioners will have a combination of learned and innate abilities that make them right for the job. Those wishing to enter this field should pinpoint areas of strengths and limitations. No one is perfect, and you don’t have to be — but you should strive to be your very best.

University of North Dakota’s Master of Accountancy Online Degree

University of North Dakota’s Master of Accountancy (M.Acc.) online program helps students master accounting principles as well as the necessary related skills, such as GAAP compliance, for a successful career in accounting at the highest levels.

UND is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International, which only recognizes about 30% of business programs in the United States. The Master of Accountancy online program offers practitioner and fundamentals tracks. Coursework is done online, which allows busy professionals to study accountancy and earn their degree without disrupting their work or personal lives. For more information, contact UND today.


Six skill sets – Robert Half

More skills – The Balance Careers