Skills you'll need to work in accounting

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Accountancy firms will tend to hire quantitative graduates from top universities, but they by no means expect you to be the finished product. Accountants are trained on the job, through a variety of qualifications depending on the country and firm you’re training in. What’s more, Big Four accounting firms also have programmes in place to target school-leavers as well as university graduates. Accounting firms therefore look for softer factors.

“There is the technical knowledge requirement coupled with an eye for detail and critical thinking,” said Jonathan Chesebrough, the former managing director and head of risk advisory at Royal Bank of Scotland who now works at EY. “But what makes someone a great accountant is communication and strategic thinking, being able to convey complex topics in a simple and lucid manner and ensuring others appreciate the strategic relevance.”

Felice Persico, global vice chair assurance at EY, says that auditors are required to process a range of complex information and need to be able to analyse it in the right way.

“Having the ability to take information in multiple forms and evaluate the results of analytics is essential to fulfilling my role as an auditor, as is being able to apply my professional judgement to interpret and draw conclusions from an audit,” he says. “This means blending a methodical approach with intuitive thinking. In short, as an auditor I need both EQ & IQ to help deliver the highest quality audit.”

Everything in a Big Four firm, from audit to consulting, involves working with clients – even at a junior level – so employers look for evidence that graduate recruits have excellent communication skills and are well-rounded individuals. This means that extra-curricular activities, as well as academic achievements are assessed during the recruitment process.

“As I liaise with a large variety of internal and external stakeholders - clients, regulators, staff and other professionals - it is important to have strong interpersonal and communication skills,” said Ivy Cheung, audit partner, KPMG China. “It is also important to be able to prioritise work commitments, as well as be able to multi task.”