4 Essential Accounting Skills Employers are Looking for in Accountants

4 Essential Accounting Skills Employers are Looking for in Accountants

There are two kinds of accountants in this world…

If this were a set up, the punchline could go in several directions, but the truth is there really are two types of accountants: those who work for accounting firms (or run their own firms) and those who work in industry as staff accountants. If you’re building a career in accounting or looking to level up your current accounting career, here are 4 essential skills companies are looking for in staff accountants.

Attention to detail:

Let’s put this one right up front, since it seems obvious on the surface. Accounting is a game of details. Companies need accurate numbers and they count on accountants to pay attention to the little details to ensure the numbers are accurate every time.

Just remember, employers are focusing on details to give you a hard time, they’re genuinely counting on you to share your pedantic super power. The little details matter not only because the numbers need to balance, but because the rest of the team (read: non-accountants) don’t want to take a deep dive into the chart of accounts to figure out what went wrong. In fact, they wouldn’t even know something was wrong until they started smelling smoke, and that’s why your attention to detail is so crucial.


Now that you’ve taken ownership of the details, they need you to be able to share them (and the bigger picture they compose) with the rest of the team. Again, we’re talking about a lot of non-accountants here, so you need to be able to speak the language of “accounting for non-majors.”

Many a text book has called accounting “the language of business’ and in order to give as much value as possible to the business you work for, you need to be able to communicate that language to stakeholders so they can act on the precious data you provide.

Can you explain what the financials are really saying? Can you share a flux analysis in a meaningful way that clearly conveys what went wrong (or what went right)? If so, you’re well on your way to the kind of communication companies are looking for.


Why not take it a step further and actively collaborate with the rest of the team? Even if you have all the details worked out, and you can explain the numbers in a way that makes the complex look simple, it doesn’t help if you stay hidden in the annex with the rest of the accounting department.

Whether you’re in an office at all or working from home, it can be way too easy to silo yourself off and only work with your own department. But healthy, dynamic companies depend on cross-functional efforts between departments. Accountants need to work well not only with other accountants but also collaborate with the sales team to share insights into the impact of different sales strategies and promotions. They need to be integrated into operations, marketing, HR, and logistics so that everyone in every part of the company is sharing information openly.

Don’t wait for others to take the first step. Your company and your career depend on you taking the initiative and building those collaborative relationships.

Tech Savvy:

Between all these “soft skills” and the cold, hard number crunching that is accounting, companies are also looking for staff accountants who have the tech skills and comfort level to adapt and learn new things quickly. Technology is crucial in accounting and finance, and as new technology accelerates with advances in AI and machine learning, accountants will need to be better than ever at learning new tools and using them effectively.

Just think, companies want accountants with experience and skill. While they’re happy to hire new graduates, they want to know that those accountants will be able to stay with the company as they gain experience and knowledge of the industry. That means they need to be able to adapt to new technology as it changes.

The more tech savvy you are as an accountant, the more value you can offer an employer. Not only will you be able to do your job more effectively, you’ll be like the one child in the home who actually knows how to use the TV remote; everyone will rely on you in their moment of need.

What next?

These four essential skills can help you land a great accounting job, but what can you do to take your career to the next level? Here are three steps you can take:

  • Hit the books. Consider which of the above skills you need to work on most and find a class or training that can help you. You’ll be gaining skills and building your resume by doing some continuing education
  • Deliberate practice. Whether you’re working in accounting right now or still in school, look for intentional opportunities to practice these skills right now. There’s nothing like real life practice to help you build those chops.
  • Celebrate your wins. Look into your past and present experience and find moments when you’ve done well in each of these areas. This serves two purposes: it helps you build momentum by seeing that you’ve already got what you need to build on, and it gives you real-world examples to pull from when a potential employers ask the familiar “Tell me about a time when…” questions.