When evaluating candidates to fill staff-level accounting and finance positions, a majority of finance executives said it is equally important for a professional to have number-crunching expertise and be able to talk shop with colleagues, according to a new survey from Robert Half Finance & Accounting.
Of the more than 2,000 CFOs surveyed, 54 percent noted that they give the same weight to technical and soft skills. When it comes to filling management-level roles, 50 percent of respondents said technical and nontechnical skills are of equal importance.
“Accounting and finance professionals are playing a larger role in companies – from serving as strategic advisors to collaborating with different departments and working with external contacts,” Paul McDonald, senior executive director at Robert Half, said in a written statement. “Technical expertise is easier to assess and train, but companies that don’t place a strong emphasis on soft skills risk being unable to build a finance function that meets the needs of the business.”
Soft skills, while not as easy to quantify, can facilitate relationships, give the professional an edge among his or her peers, and help that person become a leader.
“As financial professionals move up the career ladder, technical skills become a given, and it’s the nontechnical attributes that can prove the key to their advancement,” McDonald said.
At the senior level, these team members are expected to be able to build influence across the organization, communicate with diverse internal and external stakeholders, and serve as a business partner,” he added.
“While honing their functional expertise, individuals aspiring to the management ranks cannot neglect also enhancing their soft skills,” McDonald noted.
What exactly are soft skills? They include written and verbal communication, a knack for leadership, nurturing relationships, and the ability of professionals to not only see their immediate role, but the bigger picture and how they fit into it.
However, when finance executives were asked to choose a preference, technical skills won out by a three-to-one margin for staff-level roles and a four-to-one margin for management-level positions.
The following are five key nontechnical skills for accountants and how these attributes can be developed:
1. Business acumen. Step outside of accounting and learn as much as you can about your firm’s big-picture objectives and challenges. Ask for cross-departmental assignments and project management opportunities.
2. Leadership. Volunteer to take on a new project or fill in for a manager. These are experiences that can help you develop your leadership skills and prove you’re ready for more responsibilities.
3. Communication. Hone your ability to tell the story behind the numbers in an easy-to-understand manner, particularly for audiences unfamiliar with financial principles. Take every opportunity to develop your written, oral, and visual communication skills.
4. Relationship building. Foster genuine relationships with other professionals in your organization – long before you need help from these contacts. One way to start is to invite them for coffee to discuss how you can help them with their priorities and challenges.
5. Intellectual curiosity. Take advantage of trainings offered by your firm, as well as external learning opportunities. Earning a professional certification is another way to stay on top of industry trends.