It takes the right combination of hard and soft skills to succeed in a finance or accounting job, but the list of technical skills employers in this industry want to see from their top candidates is longer than most. Aside from having basic finance skills, you’ll need to be proficient with spreadsheets and will be expected to have a working knowledge across a range of different business software.
Technical accounting skills serve a variety of purposes for companies that are looking to fill open positions. First and foremost, these skills ensure the precise recording of financial transactions and facilitate accurate forecasting for the future. Without technology, critical business predictions like projected revenue growth or future labor needs wouldn’t be possible.
Technical finance skills are essential for keeping business operations efficient. Many day-to-day tasks such as invoicing, payables, and reconciliations are now automated, and automation continues to improve for labor-intensive tasks like tax, payroll, and audits. But automation doesn’t happen in a vacuum—at least not yet. Employers need knowledgeable accountants and finance professionals who can strategically harness automation tools.
Even with the best technology, mistakes happen. A thorough knowledge of accounting software and applications in conjunction with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles is necessary to catch errors before they spiral into the thousands or even millions of dollars.
So if you want to make it in this fast-growing field, you’ll need to brush up on your technical skills.
The top skills required for accounting and finance careers
1. Basic knowledge of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP)
Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, or GAAP, define the set of standards that govern the practice of accounting in the United States. They’re meant to standardize accounting practices across organizations and industries and ensure that a company’s financial statements are clear and complete.
GAAP is a best practice for anyone working in accounting, but if you’re working for a publicly traded company, they’re a requirement. Organizations that trade on public exchanges are mandated to file GAAP-compliant financial statements regularly. Even for private companies, GAAP compliance is viewed favorably in the eyes of lenders and creditors.
2. High level of proficiency in Microsoft Excel
Getting an accounting job without knowing Microsoft Excel is like becoming a bus driver without a driver’s license. It’s a basic job requirement. While not all accounting or finance professionals will work in Excel daily, spreadsheets are standard fare in the field, so it’s still essential to be able to read and analyze the data in them.
At a minimum, accounting and finance candidates should have a solid footing with Excel’s basic features like formulas, sorting, and filtering. For roles that will use the platform as part of their primary job duties, candidates should be proficient with advanced features like pivot tables, VLOOKUP, and what-if scenarios.
As the size of an organization grows, so does the volume of data you’ll be dealing with, making these technical skills even more valuable for jobs with enterprise-level organizations.
3. Knowledge of Quickbooks
Quickbooks is one of the most widely used pieces of accounting software among small businesses, with the online version alone boasting some 4.2 million subscribers. The software offers a suite of financial features that are useful for growing organizations, like expense tracking, invoicing, and payroll.
If you’re going to be working for a small or medium-sized organization or doing business with them, it’s highly likely you’ll be working in Quickbooks, so knowledge of this platform is definitely a technical accounting skill you want on your resume.
4. Experience with business intelligence software
Accounting and finance professionals do much more than just track money in and money out. They play a crucial role in guiding the financial direction of the organization. This requires the ability to make accurate predictions about what the future holds in terms of sales, inventory and labor, and use that data to make recommendations to the board of directors or c-suite.
Experience with ERP, or enterprise resource planning software, is one of the core skills required for accounting and finance jobs, especially higher-level jobs like senior accountants and financial analysts. You’ll need to use ERP software like SAP and Oracle to plan the purchase of raw materials, control inventory, facilitate distribution, allocate labor hours and more.
Additionally, you might need to work with popular business analytics and reporting software like Tableau or Zoho Analytics. These platforms help organizations take raw data and turn it into visualizations and other meaningful forms of information that can be used to make decisions.
5. Knowledge of tax preparation software
There’s an entire segment of the accounting and finance industry dedicated to tax. If you work in this part of the field, you’ll obviously need deep knowledge of the software your organization uses for tax preparation.
But even if you don’t work specifically in tax, you’ll likely be keeping records and preparing documents for colleagues who do. So, having a working understanding of the platform your company uses for tax preparation is helpful. Lacerte, ProConnect, and Drake are a few of these commonly used programs.
6. Proficiency in preparing financial statements
Financial statements are the on-paper records of an organization’s business activities and financial position. They’re used by many entities, including but not limited to the business itself, employees, shareholders, potential investors, and financial institutions, so these statements must be clear and easy to understand.
There are three main documents you’ll need to be familiar with: the income statement, the cash flow statement, and the balance sheet.
An income statement, also called a profit and loss or P&L report details the company’s earnings and various expenditures over a given period of time. A cash flow statement reports on the movement of a company’s cash, which should include operating costs, investment activities and financing activities. A balance sheet is a moment-in-time breakdown of a company’s assets, liabilities, and owners’ equity.
Taken together or independently, these statements serve as an at-a-glance indicator of a company’s financial health. It’s up to you as a finance professional to ensure they’re prepared accurately.
7. Data query/data management abilities
The amount of raw data in the world is growing exponentially, and that includes the financial data of organizations. One of the most relevant technical accounting skills for a competitive candidate is the ability to help a company manage and employ said data to its advantage.
One way of doing this is through data query skills, and one such data query language is SQL. SQL stands for structured query language. In layman’s terms, it’s a programming language used to pull the information you need from large volumes of data.
Imagine an order database for a major company like Target or Amazon. Let’s say that for sales tax purposes, the company needs to be able to easily tell which state a customer lives in based on their order number, and they need to be able to find that information with the touch of a button.
Now, all those orders and the corresponding customer information are of course stored somewhere, but with a company so large, the number of records is in the millions. Finding this information manually is possible, but it isn’t efficient or realistic on a large scale. Instead, an accountant with knowledge of SQL could create a function so that as soon as they input an order number, the customer’s state and corresponding sales tax information is instantly displayed.
In a similar fashion, data query skills can be useful in identifying business patterns in a set of data and even catching fraud. Once you’ve determined what data you need to access, data query skills help you take the next step and get that data.
8. Independent research skills
No matter how strong your finance skills, you’re bound to run into scenarios where you don’t have the answer. When that happens, how will you find the answer?
Top candidates should know where to turn to find the information they need, be it by searching accounting databases, poring through pieces of government legislation, or searching online forums. The best finance professionals don’t necessarily have an encyclopedic knowledge of financial rules and regulations, but you can bet they know where to find them.
9. Understanding business operations
While finance and accounting professionals aren’t directly responsible for the activities that make companies money, their work is deeply connected with those activities. An accountant who has a firm understanding of business concepts like sales and marketing will be able to make much more specific recommendations than one who doesn’t really grasp how the business works.
Many financial professionals follow up their bachelor’s degree with an MBA, which can broaden your business knowledge and give you a huge leg up when you’re job searching.
10. Payroll capabilities
Just as there’s an entire segment of accounting dedicated to taxes, there’s also one specifically focused on payroll. This is how a company’s payments to employees–and important organizations like the government–are processed.
Payroll skills are crucial in ensuring workers get their checks on time and the company complies with all federal, state, and local wage laws.
Best courses to improve your technical finance and accounting skills
- Introduction to finance and accounting specialization: If you’re new to the field, this Coursera course is a great starting point. Offered by the University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious Wharton School, it will set you up with a basic knowledge of core financial concepts like cash flow, balance sheets, and industry terminology.
- Financial reporting specialization: This intermediate-level Coursera course builds on basic financial accounting principles to offer a deep dive into financial reporting. Once you complete the course, you’ll be able to create and process an organization’s financial statements and use those statements to assess a company’s financial position.
- Microsoft Excel 2: Intermediate to Expert advanced: When you’re ready to take your mastery of Microsoft Excel to the next level, check out this Udemy course. It will help you become proficient with intermediate to advanced concepts like pivot charts and VLOOKUP, which can help you make a bigger impact for your employer.