The time has come.
Your company is growing and your accounting team needs to keep up. It’s time to hire someone new to join the team. So, what do you look for in a great accountant who will be an asset to the team and not a liability?
Rewind just a few years and hiring an accountant was simple. Just look for a detail-oriented numbers person, preferably with an accounting degree. The list of non-essentials was telling: Communications skills, team player, tech comfort level, etc. In 2021, the role of the accountant has changed, and with it the qualities you look for when hiring a great staff accountant.
The New Accountants
The two biggest drivers of these changes are technology (think cloud-based tools and AI) and increasing competition. Companies need more from their teams than ever before. Fortunately, automation in accounting is allowing accountants to do more in less time so they can take on new responsibilities.
These new accountants are taking a more strategic role and working more closely with the rest of the company. This is good news because it brings analytical, data-driven planning into every aspect of the business, allowing you to compete in the global economy.
So, what skills do these new accountants need? What should you be looking for in an accountant who will meet and exceed your expectations and thrive long-term? Here are a few qualities to consider:
Accounting has become so much more than number-crunching. Successful staff accountants need to be able to take those numbers and see them in light of the big picture. They need to apply their data and financial insights to business problems and help arrive at strategic solutions.
Look for applicants who can think outside the box and outside the accounting department. In fact, experience in other areas and a background outside of accounting can be a big advantage. At the highest levels, CFOs have always needed a broad base of strategic thinking skills to thrive. That need is now migrating down the chain to the controller, accounting manager, and the rest of the accounting department.
Accountants who understand how the number play into decision-making at an operational level are more likely to know what to look for. They’ll be the first to see trends that matter and clearly communicate them to the people who need to take action. Departmental silos just won’t cut it anymore.
There’s an unfortunate stereotype of accountants as awkward and isolated in their own little cubicles. This just isn’t true and certainly doesn’t work in today’s business environment. Accountants don’t just need communications skills, they need them in spades.
Accounting has been called the “language of business” because the numbers tell the real story. For a business to thrive, that language needs to be clearly communicated with everyone involved. If your accounting staff can’t communicate with other departments, you’re not going to get the best results with your financial information. Given the technical nature of accounting and the tendency of some people to be a bit arithmophobic (that’s the fear of numbers), accountants need to be even better at communicating tough topics.
With the accounting team, communication is key to smooth day-to-day processes, monthly closes, and reporting. As the accounting department starts working more closely with operations, communication is becoming even more crucial. With many companies working at least partially from home, the ability to clearly communicate and share information through online channels is also a highly-needed skill.
If you’ve ever sat through a meeting and fallen asleep over spreadsheets and pie-charts, you understand how this can get out of hand. You don’t have an accounting problem, you have a communication problem. The kind of accountants you’re looking for can take those numbers and make them alive and relevant to people in other departments.
With the increase in accounting, technology comes a need for more tech-savvy accountants. This may sound obvious, but it’s not always so straightforward in practice.
Accounting programs haven’t kept pace with recent changes, so an accounting degree is no guarantee a candidate will be comfortable with the needed technology. Make sure you include questions about tech comfort levels in your interview process. Find out what programs your applicants have used, how familiar they are, and how able and willing they are to learn new tools.
In addition to screening for tech-savvy, make sure your accounting department has time and resources to continue learning and training on new technology. If they aren’t able to learn and implement new tools, they’re likely to stick with outdated software, even if it costs you efficiency and effectiveness.
Ultimately, when you’re browsing resumes and looking for just the right person to add to your accounting staff, you need to find a tech-savvy team player who can see the big picture and communicate in a way that contributes to that picture.
Great candidates are out there. Whether they’re new graduates or career changers, there are plenty of skilled, qualified applicants to fill your roles. Hopefully, the three criteria above will help you find just the right person to add to the team.