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Top Five Traits of an Accountant

By Sharon Levin, PhD

Whether you are beginning your career or transitioning to a new one, it’s important to consider all of the opportunities available to you. If you want to pursue a career with a high earning potential and work in any industry from any location around the globe, think about a career in accounting. To be successful in the accounting industry, consider some of the traits of those who work as accountants.

1. Trustworthiness

As an accountant, you may be expected to access confidential information about your clients, such as tax returns, financial information, and investment portfolios. When earning an accounting degree or as a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) candidate, you are required to take at least one college ethics course. Some states also require a separate ethics exam before licensure. Accountants must develop good client relationships to build trust. Honesty, integrity, and confidentiality are critical. By demonstrating credibility and consistency, you can help build organizational trust as well.

 

2. Passion for Learning 

Becoming an accountant requires continuous learning and upskilling. To ensure CPAs stay current with new laws and standards, all U.S. jurisdictions require CPAs to complete continuing professional education (CPE) courses to renew their CPA license. In addition, new tax laws are considered each year. Congress passes new tax legislation, the IRS implements new tax laws and forms, the Financial Accounting Standards Board updates and issues new financial accounting standards, and the Securities and Exchange Commission mandates new reporting requirements for public corporations. Accountants learn to implement these annual changes by attending CPE courses and through self-study.

 

3. Exceptional Writing Skills

Most accountants are skilled at crunching numbers, but an accountant with excellent writing skills can really stand out. The ability to analyze data, create data visualizations, and communicate your interpretations of the data in a way that can be understood by both accountants and clients is a high-demand skill that can give you many opportunities in the job market.

 

4. Adaptive to New Technology

Blockchain, robotic process automation, and artificial intelligence are advancing at a speed that requires accounting firms to frequently reassess the capabilities of software, embrace agile methodologies, and adapt quickly. Amy Vetter, a CPA and CEO of B3 Method Institute, advises accountants to capitalize on new technology by planning and preparing for technological shifts in business operations.1 If you have excellent Excel skills, learn Tableau, PowerBi, and other data visualization tools to expand your knowledge of new technology. Learn data analytics using R, Python, or other coding software. Proactively seek opportunities to learn how emerging technologies will transform career paths in the accounting industry.

 

5. Professional Skepticism

To protect clients’ assets from loss and exposure to external threats such as cybercriminals, accountants are trained to maintain professional skepticism, also known as a questioning mindset. When performing data analytics, accountants question the validity and reliability of the financial data provided to them and seek verification of data accuracy. Maintaining professional skepticism reduces the risks of reporting inaccurate financial information, which investors and potential investors may rely on to make investment decisions.

Accountants prepare financial statements and reports for both internal and external stakeholders who rely on that information to make more informed decisions. Stakeholders who make investment decisions based on inaccurate information or other reporting errors assume unknown risks. In the United States, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board “oversees audits of public companies in order to protect investors and the public interest by promoting informative, accurate, and independent audit reports” (Hanson, 2016). When accountants are skeptical of financial data and information provided by a client, they must act upon their suspicions.  

 

Discover a Career in Accounting2

Before choosing your career path, consider researching its projected growth rate and median salary in the Occupational Outlook Handbook, published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, there are more than 1.4 million accountants in the United States, and approximately half are Certified Public Accountants, or CPAs.

Connect with accountants working in different specializations such as tax, auditing, government, fraud, and cyberaccounting. Once you narrow specific areas of accounting you’re interested in pursuing, schedule time to shadow one or more accountants. Consider volunteering as an intern so you can learn more about the industry and specific company practices. Some accounting firms may offer paid part-time internship positions. 


References  

Hanson, J. D. (2016). The PCAOB, its current activities, and impact on preparers. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. Retrieved March 2, 2022, from https://pcaobus.org/news-events/speeches/speech-detail/the-pcaob-its-current-activities-and-impact-on-preparers_620

National Association of State Boards of Accountancy. (2021, August 24). How many CPAs are there? Retrieved March 2, 2022, from https://nasba.org/licensure/howmanycpas/ 

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Accountants and auditors. 2022, April 8). Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved May 9, 2022, from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/accountants-and-auditors.htm


1 Vetter, A. (2019, October 1). What CPAs must do to capitalize on disruption. Journal of Accountancy. https://www.journalofaccountancy.com/issues/2019/oct/cpa-firm-technology-disruption.html

2 CPA requirements vary state by state. Learn more about these professional licensure requirements.

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