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Accounting Skills: Key Duties, Roles and Responsibilities of Accountants

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  1. What are accountants?
  2. What are accounting skills?
  3. Right from the start: accounting skills
  4. Key duties, roles and responsibilities
  5. Types of accountants
  6. How to hire an accountant
  7. FAQs about accounting skills

Companies almost always need a person or team to handle complex financial responsibilities. You can either hire an internal accountant or outsource your company’s accounting duties to an accounting firm. Accountants need specific skills to perform their duties well. If your company is getting ready to hire an accountant, understanding their main duties, skills and specializations can help you better evaluate the job candidates.

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What are accountants?

Accountants are trained professionals who handle financial information for a company. They may work in-house for a company, or they might work for an accounting firm that takes on outside clients. The roles of accountants often include financial analysis, ensuring the company is handling its money legally and managing tax forms and documents properly.

Certified Public Accountants, or CPAs, are a type of accountant, but not all accountants are CPAs. This designation requires the person to meet stringent requirements for licensing related to education. It also requires an exam. Most small businesses don’t need a CPA, but you might need one if your company has to do a financial statement audit.

What are accounting skills?

Accountants must have certain skills to perform their jobs well. These skills include hard skills, or learned knowledge about the job, and soft skills, which are character attributes not specifically related to the job. Both hard and soft skills are necessary to be an excellent accountant. Skills you should look for in an accountant include time management, attention to detail, organization and interpersonal skills.

Accountants acquire the majority of their skills from education, although some soft skills come from experience. To become an accountant, individuals must attend an accredited college or university and earn a degree in accounting. From there, some accountants pursue further skills through graduate school, while others take the CPA exam and begin practicing immediately.

Right from the start: accounting skills

Accountants should develop a combination of hard and soft skills to succeed in the field. Here are some specific skills you should look for in potential accountants for your organization.

Hard skills

Hard skills are directly related to the job and can be learned either on the job or by taking classes specific to accounting. Examples include:

  • Competency with numbers
  • Corporate finance
  • General business knowledge
  • Research
  • Management
  • Data entry
  • Data analysis
  • Problem-solving and critical thinking
  • Computer and accounting software proficiency

Soft skills

Soft skills, while focused more on communication and interactions with others, are still useful for accountants to have. They include:

  • Attention to detail
  • Confidentiality
  • Strong time management
  • Accuracy
  • Organization
  • Planning skills
  • Written and verbal communication
  • Active listening
  • Ability to self-motivate
  • Flexibility and adaptability
  • Teamwork
  • Ethical conduct

Accounting-specific skills

Accountants also need to have several skills that are generally only used in the accounting field. Some of those skills include knowing how to do the following things:

  • Perform audits
  • Reconcile accounts
  • Apply accounting principles
  • Manage accounts payable and accounts receivable
  • Age reports
  • Create reports
  • Create and manage budgets
  • Calculate taxes
  • Understand and follow tax laws
  • Financial forecasting
  • Calculate interest

The specific accounting skills needed for any given position depend on the needs of the company. An accountant might be hired to handle a single part of the bookkeeping process, or one accountant might manage all financial duties of the company.

Key duties, roles and responsibilities

Accountants are responsible for managing and evaluating a variety of financial information. The specific roles, responsibilities and duties of an accountant will depend on the industry in which they work, the size of your company and the type of accounting they’re performing. Here are some of the most common duties and responsibilities of an accountant:

  • Prepare and manage tax returns
  • Prepare financial documents, such as income statements and balance sheets
  • Work with auditors both within and outside of the company to ensure legal compliance
  • Make sure all bookkeeping is accurate and adheres to state and federal law
  • Create budgets or advise the company on creating budgets
  • Properly store and manage financial data
  • Regularly review bookkeeping for accuracy
  • Review and update accounting processes and procedures as needed
  • Make financial recommendations
  • Manage or work on an accounting team
  • Maintain confidential and secure storage of important financial information
  • Create financial forecasts
  • Communicate with clients and in-house stakeholders

Types of accountants

Accountants can work in a variety of settings. The skills your accountant needs to perform their job well depends on the type of accounting the job requires. Here are the most common types of accountants and the environments in which they work:

  • Public: Public accountants work for an accounting company and take on clients, which could be either individuals or companies.
  • Private: Private accountants work in-house for a single company or corporation.
  • Fiduciary: Fiduciary accountants work for a trust or estate.
  • Governmental: Governmental accountants work for organizations within the government, such as the Internal Revenue Service. They can work for government organizations on every level, including local, state and federal.
  • Forensic: Forensic accountants prepare financial information for litigation.
  • Management: Management accountants work with high-level executives to make business decisions and help with budgeting.

How to hire an accountant

If you decide to hire an accountant for your company, these steps can help:

  1. Establish your hiring budget. How much you can offer for the compensation package can determine the type of accountant you can hire. For example, if your budget is too small for a CPA, you might need to hire a regular accountant.
  2. Identify your accounting needs to help narrow down what you need from your accountant.
  3. Choose the type of accountant you want to hire.
  4. Write your criteria for the ideal candidate, including the preferred education, certifications, skills and experience.
  5. Create a detailed job description for the vacancy.
  6. Post the job listing and promote it in multiple places to get a large number of applicants.
  7. Review applications to look for the skills and experience you identify as necessary.
  8. Prepare standard accountant interview questions that let you evaluate accounting skills.
  9. Evaluate how well each interviewee matches your preferred qualifications to narrow down your choices.

FAQs about accounting skills

How can an employer support their accountant’s skill development?

Accountants can gain accounting skills through formal education and experience. If your accountant is already a CPA, they could earn a degree in a specialized area of accounting that would benefit your business. CPAs are also required to do continuing education, which can improve their skills or let them explore specific accounting topics. Short-term professional development opportunities can also develop your accountant’s skill set without the time and financial constraints presented by traditional schooling.

Which accounting skills are important to look for on an applicant’s resume?

The specific skills you’re looking for depend largely on the accountant duties you need the candidate to fulfill. Accounting applicants may list their skills in several ways on their resumes. Some applicants may list their skills as bullet points in a specific skills section of their resume, while others might list their skills in the work experience section or describe them in the objective. Generally, you’ll want to look for skills, such as math fluency, excellent communication, attention to detail, organization and leadership. If your company has specific accounting needs, look for candidates who already have experience in those areas.

What are management accounting skills?

Management accounting involves working with a team of high-level executives to make business decisions, often regarding investments. In addition to the core math and analysis skills necessary for all accountants, management accountants should also be great communicators, demonstrate proficiency in creating presentations and be comfortable with public speaking.

What is technical accounting?

Technical accounting is the performance of basic accounting practices under the supervision of a senior accountant. Technical accountants are often new to the profession and just beginning to hone their accounting skills. Many technical accountants go on to hold senior accountant positions. Technical accountants work in a variety of work settings.

What accounting skills should managers value?

The skills managers should pay the most attention to depend on the industry and the role of the accountant. Look at each accountant duty in your job description to evaluate how well candidates match your requirements. All accountants, regardless of their exact position, should have basic analysis and math skills and pay exceptional attention to detail.

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