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Getting Ahead in Accounting and Finance

As an accounting professional today, there are unprecedented opportunities to advance your career. Explore what skill sets and other qualities are most valued.

June 19, 2008
from Accountemps

As an accounting professional today, there are unprecedented opportunities to advance your career. These favorable conditions are largely the result of corporate governance regulations, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, passed earlier this decade. Companies are now more risk conscious than they have ever been. Not only are they facing new internal control requirements but they are also conducting risk assessments in other areas. Those who can adapt and excel in this environment will be well positioned for long-term success.

Opportunities are especially great in the fields of audit, tax, regulatory compliance, risk management and business planning. To take advantage of this climate and further your career, you need to make sure you have the right skills. Following are some of the skill sets and other qualities most valued today:

Communications skills. Because of the need to understand and explain increasingly complex regulations and reporting requirements, skills of verbal, written and interpersonal communication are more important for accounting professionals than ever. Companies are using cross-functional teams to manage special projects. As a result, firms expect their accounting staff to collaborate with colleagues from departments ranging from information technology (IT) and purchasing to marketing. Being able to communicate clearly both orally and in writing helps accountants who need to explain financial data and concepts to nonfinancial managers.

For anyone aspiring to senior management positions, communication skills are pivotal. To a great extent, how well a professional communicates determines how far he or she can rise within an organization.

Understanding of technology. In addition to basic accounting skills, a premier qualification for finance professionals is IT experience. Technology plays a greater and greater role in accounting functions and professionals need to be familiar with current innovations. In particular, companies value practitioners adept with complex spreadsheets, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, data warehousing and applications for financial analysis. The continuing impetus toward eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) makes those who understand financial data tagging in particular demand.

Increasingly, finance professionals perform technology audits to evaluate IT controls, policies and security for risk management and regulatory compliance. Companies also use IT audits to find ways of using their hardware and software assets more effectively. Not only companies but also public auditing firms value technology auditors, particularly certified public accountants (CPAs) who also have the certified information systems auditor (CISA) designation or other technology-related certification.

Cross-cultural perspective. As organizations become more global, they place a greater premium on employees with a broad cultural outlook and fluency with other languages. Professionals familiar with the political, cultural and business practices of other countries are sought by companies with customers or subsidiaries in those countries. Finance professionals located in the United States also need to work well with colleagues, suppliers and customers from different backgrounds and cultures.

Multinational organizations seek accounting professionals with knowledge of foreign trade and accounting regulations and International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), adopted by the countries of the European Union and other major countries around the world. Professionals for these organizations also need a working knowledge of ways U.S. corporate governance requirements affect foreign subsidiaries of U.S.-based firms.

The drive to learn. Success in the accounting profession requires intellectual curiosity and a willingness to never stop learning. Top professionals maintain their knowledge of new developments and regulations throughout their careers. A key achievement is earning a master's in business administration (MBA) degree along with an industry certification such as CPA, certified internal auditor (CIA) or certified management accountant (CMA). These credentials not only make you more marketable but also typically command a higher salary.

Today, accounting professionals have become more visible in companies and more often considered trusted advisors. Those with solid skills in communication, technology and international standards, along with a commitment to continued learning, will stand out as candidates for special projects and career advancement.

Accountemps is one of the world's first and largest temporary staffing service specializing in the placement of accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals. The company has more than 360 offices worldwide and offers online job search services at www.accountemps.com.