Developing Soft Skills to progress your career in Practice

Why are soft skills so important?

Have you ever stopped to think about why some people make Partner and others never will?

Few things are more disappointing than working hard to gain professional qualifications, becoming highly technically proficient, and yet getting stuck seemingly forever at Senior Accountant level.  Yet we all know that colleague in exactly that predicament, or it may even have happened to you?

If you take time to ponder this matter you will begin to see a pattern. The individuals who make Partner are not always the most technically brilliant, but they have common qualities and capabilities which define them.

The truth of the matter is that whilst Junior Accountants and Part Qualified Accountants will gain promotion based on technical ability and skill set alone, there comes a point where that is simply not enough. To get noticed and stand out from the crowd you also need to finely hone a range of soft skills to differentiate yourself from your peers.

Technology and the changing role of the Accountant 

Practice and the role of the accountant has undertaken radical changes in recent years, a process which looks set to continue as Technology advances apace. As Artificial Intelligence begins to have the capacity to deliver some of the more mundane compliance tasks which humans once undertook with regularity, and we don’t yet know where this will end.

The savvy accountancy firms (and indeed accountants) have already begun to adapt, focusing more on interpreting of information rather than pure reporting, and the type of advisory services which Business Owners crave (and incidentally only humans can currently deliver).

white futuristic robot

How will the Fluffy stuff help my career prospects?

It might be tempting to ignore the ‘fluffy stuff’ and focus purely on qualifications and technical knowledge. But when speaking to clients it’s these additional qualities and capabilities which often make the difference between them hiring someone or not.

If you line up 5 Part-Qualified Accountants in a row, and judge them based on technical prowess alone, the differences will often be minor. So how will you make sure that you are remembered?

Often, it’s not about what you do, but the way that you do it. You can write all the right words on your CV, but unless an Interviewer (or your current Employer) can ‘see’ and ‘feel’ evidence of these qualities they won’t believe it.

By polishing up on the following 5 soft skills and being able to provide examples which illustrate when you have used them, we guarantee that you will super-charge your potential for career progression.

Fluffy cute kitten

5 of the most coveted Soft Skills required in Public Practice roles

1. Verbal Communication skills – Have you got the confidence to converse with people from all walks of life and at all levels of seniority?

Nearly every CV we see states that the candidate has ‘Effective communication skills’. But what does that really mean? … and more importantly can you back this up in an interview situation?

Accountants are increasingly required to influence others, including both Business Owners and very senior decision makers with corporate entities. Sometimes this means delivering news that is hard to swallow, and often it will mean changing the ‘mind-set’ of a given individual in order for them to truly take the actions required for the future success of the business.

Furthermore, to become a Leader (which Partners should always be), you must also be able to communicate in a way that instils passion and confidence in a team.

It is important to be able to listen, interpret and assimilate information as well as to articulate clearly and confidently. Being truly comfortable in communicating verbally will give you credibility not just with clients, but with peers and indeed your employer.

  • Take every opportunity you can to gain experience in speaking publicly
  • Focus on creating a confident and steady tone, speaking slowly can help add resonance
  • Body language and posture is often as important as the words themselves
  • Gain feedback from others and take any criticism seriously
  • Listen 70% of the time
  • Pause before each point you make
  • Look for training courses which will improve your verbal communication skills

2Lateral thinking/Problem solving skills – Business is changing all the time, and all accountants will be confronted by things that they have never dealt with before, situations that will not have been covered in a textbook. Can you quickly determine what you don’t know and what you need to learn? Are you able to practice problem-solving skills to create solutions for your clients?  Good accountants are natural researchers, and they are also very good at learning something new when necessary.

Moreover, it is no longer enough just to report information, the difference between an average accountant and a formidable one is the ability to read between the lines and to translate financial information in a meaningful way to help their clients.

3. Commercial Acumen – Often the most difficult soft skill to develop. We hear many a woeful tale from those in the earlier years of their career, and we understand the struggle to gain adequate breadth of client exposure is very real. Things that may help include; putting yourself forward for secondments, asking to work with other departments where possible, taking on extra projects in the local community on a volunteer basis. Assisting a community based project or charity or even a family friend with their accounting and finance needs will add additional skills and exposure.

Have a thirst for knowledge and always dig deep with your questioning, whether that is on the job with a client, or in the office with Partners. By asking pertinent and in-depth questions you will learn a whole wealth of things not picked up from exams, but you will also position yourself as someone who is astute and ambitious.

4. Business Development/Sales skills – If you can win new clients or ‘sell in’ additional services to existing clients you will become an asset to the Practice. Those who can create additional fee income has a highly desirable skill set and will move more quickly through the ranks. To become a Partner this skill set is essential, as all Equity Level Partners will be expected to bring in additional fee income and grow their own portfolio.

Start small by getting involved in local networking events, and learn how to build rapport with other professionals first. If you can, offer to shadow a more senior member of the team who is already involved in Business Development activities. Maybe offer to take notes or help them to prepare proposal documents, anything that gives you the opportunity to observe the process first hand.

5. Leadership – Finally, to get ahead it is important that you can demonstrate your capability to lead others, a fundamental skill in any managerial position. By possessing this skill set, you are then able to help others develop their soft skills one day.

To gain Leadership experience initially can be difficult, but seize any opportunity to show that you can influence and manage others to create a desired outcome. This may mean initially just volunteering to take charge of smaller projects to help a more senior member of staff. Other potential opportunities to demonstrate and develop leadership skills include; organising social gatherings, setting up charity events and taking the lead in meetings/discussions.

man in suit (close up)

A fantastic way to gain those all-important commercial skills
We are working with more and more candidates who are keen to explore the world of interim contracting. Essentially this can be a terrific way of learning new skills and gaining additional knowledge fast. Besides gaining exposure to a more varied set of clients, you will be pushed to adapt to new situations and environments. This not only looks great on your CV put can advance many of your ‘Soft skills’.

Because of the nature of interim assignments, often clients are willing to pay a premium hourly rate for your services. Even better!

To discuss your career options call us on 0333 577 7787 or email info@publicpracticerecruitment.co.uk to speak to one of our dedicated consultants.

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