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Why Accountants Need to Make Their People Skills Count

In every sector – yes, even accounting – soft skills like your ability to speak in plain English, flair for influencing stakeholders and overall people skills are in high demand.

In an industry long characterised by the need for strong technical skills, it wasn’t so far off that accountants only needed to crunch numbers and do the books accurately. But today, if you can’t demystify the world of numbers to the business, speak in lay terms and show strong people skills, you may not get the job. Or you could get a mid-weight technical role, with no opportunities in management or strategic planning.

A New Trend In Accounting

With our clients ranging from small businesses to multinationals, we’ve noticed a clear trend emerging in the finance sector.

People skills are rising in demand – regardless of the level of the role or the type of organisation. It’s true, some positions are more technically focused than others, but a lack of people skills or the ability to develop these over time will limit a candidate’s ability to move on and progress within a finance structure.

5 Top Soft Skills

  1. Communication skills: Ask yourself if you have the capacity to really listen to what’s being said, and clearly convey the message you’re trying to get across.
  2. Plain English: The ability to explain highly technical concepts in user-friendly, “lay person” language – especially to a non-finance audience – is essential today, because the business you work for depends on what the data is saying, but frequently struggles to understand and interpret numbers the way you can.
  3. Management and people skills: Management covers more than directing a team as a line manager. Consider how you manage relationships with people and teams outside the finance function, who are all critical stakeholders in a company’s overall success.
  4. Influencing skills: Can you negotiate with people, build positive relationships, communicate openly and effectively, persuade stakeholders and get an entire team on board with an idea?
  5. Problem solving: This involves your ability to think laterally and find solutions that address an issue or “pain point” in the business.

Remember, it’s important to show these people skills at the stage of your CV submission and written application. In a sector where most candidates may emphasise technical skills and qualifications in the early stages of a job application, your emphasis on non-technical but substantial achievements such as supporting commercial business areas, interfacing with external customers and leading colleagues through special projects will help you stand out remarkably. 

What Our Clients Say

Some of the most interesting and significant points of feedback we receive from hiring managers include:

  • People skills are among the most important criteria to look out for when hiring, because everyone who applies for an accounting role has technical competence, but softer skills are rare and prized.
  • The abilities to “listen and learn” – and crucially, influence the business – are extremely valuable, so much so that some employers only choose candidates with strength or obvious potential in these areas. 
  • The higher an accountant’s level in the organisation, the more important their people skills. Finance roles can be said to fall into 4 broad categories – data gathering, data analysis, decision support and decision making – and soft skills are essential in the last 3 categories.
  • The ability to explain challenging concepts in simple terms for a non-specialist or non-finance audience is among the uppermost important people skill in the accounting space.

Which Interview Counts The Most?

As clients hire recruiters to screen candidates for their full range of technical skills, people skills and cultural fit, it’s important to shine and show all of your skills equally in your interview with your recruiter as with the employer.

This is about presenting the most capable and skilled version of yourself in all interview situations, and using every interview opportunity to practice and hone your positioning.

Typically, a questioning style known as “competency based interviewing” is employed by recruiters and hiring managers to uncover your softer skills, so rehearsing this method in your interview with the recruiter is a useful way to sharpen your positioning for your moment in front of the employer. In competency based interviews, the interviewer asks you to a describe a real-life situation in which you’ve overcome a challenge or issue, and it pays to really prepare examples of scenarios that you managed in your latest roles.

For more advice on interviewing, visit the Michael Page Career Centre.

For assistance with your finance and accounting job search or hiring requirements, please contact us today to speak to one of our specialist consultants.