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What does it take to succeed in accounting?

Posted in on Job Post at 15 Dec, 2011

What words of advice would successful accounting professionals offer to someone starting their accounting career? Consider the value of answers to this question from a Big Four tax partner, a Big Four audit partner, the owner of a local public accounting firm, a General Auditor from a major bank, and the Chief Audit Officer of a state government agency.

There is a saying: “experience is the best teacher.” However, the power of learning through experience can be multiplied many times if the benefit is obtained by learning from other people’s experiences.   By listening to successful accounting and auditing professionals and applying the lessons learned, you may be able to position yourself to achieve similar success as you pursue your career.

So, what does it take to succeed in accounting? I recently asked several accounting professionals for their thoughts on this subject.

According to an audit partner with PriceWaterhouseCoopers,  “To exceed or achieve professional expectations, I believe you must excel in four broad skills. The first, professional expertise, encompasses technical competence and leadership with the ability to apply it to industry and general business issues. Secondly, the professional must demonstrate outstanding human resource development skills, including both self-development and staff-development skills.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the ability to manage the relationship profitably, and the leadership skills to integrate and provide creative teamwork solutions to client issues.  Finally, the successful professional must be able to develop business for his firm through growth in services with existing clients, generating new business prospects, and demonstrating market leadership skills.”

A Senior Vice President and General Auditor at a major national bank, believes communication skills are critical to success in accounting.

“Over the years I have hired a number of very successful college graduates who have “easily” passed the CPA exam. However, in auditing your final product must be effectively delivered to the auditee in order to elicit a positive action. In addition, you must succinctly and concisely deliver, in written form, your message to executive management and the board.”

A tax partner in the tax department of Ernst & Young, believes: “Technical proficiency and a strong work ethic are obviously important to academic success and professional success as well. However, your success will ultimately depend on your ability to provide quality service to your clients. Quality service goes beyond your knowledge of the “rules” or your ability to work hard, and requires a broad business perspective, an understanding of your client’s business and culture, responsiveness to clients needs, and a proactive (not reactive) attitude. To me, this is the greatest challenge of our profession and the true measure of success.”

According to the owner of a sole proprietorship in Richmond, “students entering the profession need to learn to challenge all of the work they see and do. They must ask questions and not accept anything for its face value.

They should develop strong people skills. This will help them grow into relationships with clients and contacts and pay big dividends in the long term.

They should work and learn in all areas of the profession, but should set their sights on an area of specialization.

They should give time and energy back to the community after finding a worthy cause with which they have a personal interest.

The General Audit Officer of a large state government agency, has some thoughts for those considering careers in internal auditing that seem relevant to all accountants and auditors.

“Individuals entering the field of internal auditing need to be adaptable and have the ability to look at global issues and not “get lost in the trees and not see the forest.” Since the nature of internal auditing is to assist members of the organization in the effective discharge of their responsibilities, individuals must have the ability to communicate their thoughts to all organizational levels effectively. They must also demonstrate their technical skills through professional certification. Lastly, they must be open-minded and add value to the organization through their work.”

The common thread in all these responses seems to be communication skills. Whether it’s called client service, relationship management, people skills, or just oral and written communications, all the professionals in my survey saw effective communication as critical to the development of a successful accounting career.

There may be something here to consider as you are selecting classes for your final semester. The technical background is clearly essential. However, the ability to deal effectively with others will probably be the crux of your climb toward success.

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