CPA

What qualities make a good accountant? 4 accountant personality traits that will propel your career

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Top-notch organizational skills are a given. But what else defines a successful accountant?

You’re a natural planner and a nerd for numbers. You enjoy making sense of dollars and cents—being the one to lend clarity and context to what may appear to be financial chaos. It’s part of why you got into accounting. But beyond these organization-focused qualities of an accountant, what skills and abilities will be most important to your success as an accountant? What accountant personality traits can have a major influence not only on your career advancement but also on your long-term career satisfaction?

Accountant personality traits

 An accountant’s personality and how you interact with your colleagues and clients ultimately will be as important as the quality of work you do for them, suggests Mike Brown, CPA and director of product management at Becker. “You have to be very open; you have to be willing to ask questions,” says Brown. “And not to prove that you’re smarter, but to show you’re genuinely interested in how and why they’re doing what they’re doing.”

To be sure, a keen eye for detail and a willingness to dive into the weeds of a complex problem will help you produce top-quality work. But the following four qualities of an accountant, interwoven with your proven knack for staying highly organized, will go a long way in ensuring that your managers, teammates and clients view you as a trusted partner—someone they want on their team.

The accountant personality traits needed for success in a modern, evolving accounting world are largely focused on soft skills. :

Qualities of an accountant

1. Eager to learn “I think a hunger to always be learning is a critical characteristic,” says Brown. Those outside the profession may view accounting as a relatively static field — how much can calculations and formulas change, they may figure — but that perception is far from reality in accounting, Brown indicates.

“There’s something new every month,” he says,whether that’s new regulations, tweaks to best accounting practices, or new technologies to facilitate the collection, sharing and management of data.

Being eager to learn rather than reluctant to seek out new information and perspectives is a vital accountant personality trait because it can help you ensure that you don’t get left behind as new platforms, practices and processes are adopted. The job outlook for accountants is healthy, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which in April projected job growth of 6% for accountants from 2018 through 2028—tracking closely with the average projected growth for all occupations during that time.

But the bureau noted that as new technologies continue to transform the field—automating some routine tasks, for example—"the advisory and analytical duties of accountants will become more prominent.” And those duties require the kind of broadly informed knowledge and perspective that is enhanced by a commitment to continual learning. It’s worth noting, too, that the bureau comments that “accountants and auditors who have earned professional recognition, especially as Certified Public Accountants (CPAs), should have the best [job] prospects.”

2. Adaptable From a business perspective, the COVID-19 crisis has been nothing if not a lesson in adaptability. For accountants, the pandemic has brought the challenge of learning to interact with clients virtually, without the relationship-fostering benefits of in-person conversations and consultations. But as virtual collaboration has become a necessity, the accountant personality best prepared to meet and seize the moment are those willing to roll up their sleeves and embrace change, rather than those who chafe at it. 

“You have to be willing to roll with the punches,” Brown says. “Yes, companies have gone through hell, but I have been so impressed watching how creative everyone has been. I love that it is forcing some folks out of their preconceived notions.”

Of course, adaptability is one of the lead qualities of an accountant at any time, not only during a pandemic. And it is equally important for those beginning their accounting career as those who have worked in the field for decades. Brown recalls the experience of his first manager rewriting “every paragraph” of what Brown would submit to him. And while in that scenario—one not uncommon for new employees to find themselves in—it might be easy to become frustrated or discouraged, Brown says he ultimately saw an opportunity to view his work and his approach through a new lens. “It took me being willing to say I need to learn something about how he does this,” says Brown.

3. Effective communicators “It’s the people skills you need—I learned that pretty early on,” says Brown. New team members at an accounting firm may find themselves “being dropped in (with) a client and they don’t like you because you’re the auditor and no one likes that word.”

Breaking down the walls that can go up between accountants and clients starts with being able to explain, in a plainspoken and respectful way, what you’re doing and why—why you’re seeking the information you seek, what you’ll do with it and the overall desired outcome. “You have to show you’re not just trying to find their mistakes and rat them out to their boss,” Brown says.

And while extroversion may not be a dominant accountant personality type, superior communication skills and comfort with public speaking can help you stand out within your firm. “You’ll be the most popular person at your company if you’re the one who people can look to and say, “Oh, he or she actually likes presenting? Let’s give (this presentation) to them,” Brown comments.

4. Authentic and empathetic Talking with their accountant isn’t on the list of most people’s—or most companies’—most-looked-forward-to tasks. For a lot of clients, Brown says, there’s a real fear of, “Oh, you’re the expert who’s going to tell us everything we’re doing wrong.”

Bridge-building starts with showing a little humanity, he indicates. That can take the form of paying attention to (even writing down) the small details clients mention in a conversation—whether about family members, hobbies/activities, company or personal milestones or goals—and following up about these with a question or two at a later date. It can mean sharing a detail about your own personal life or career and something you’ve learned along the way. The concept of the staid, no-nonsense, no-small-talk accountant personality may be ingrained in the public mind, but it’s not reflective of the diverse array of individuals who make today’s accounting profession robust as it continues to evolve. Bringing individual authenticity to the table—to interactions with clients and colleagues— is one of the most important qualities of an accountant and can help forge relationships that positively impact the work produced. 

In the end, “A lot of your career comes down to managing people,” Brown says. “And managing up can be as important as managing down.” A cultivated curiosity and inquisitiveness will help accountants continue to learn not only how best to manage their daily responsibilities but also how to engage most effectively with their team members and clients. In fact, in a 2018 survey of more than 3,000 employees (supervisors and non supervisors) published in the Harvard Business Review, 92% of respondents “credited curious people with bringing new ideas into teams and organizations and viewed curiosity as a catalyst for job satisfaction, motivation, innovation, and high performance,” wrote the study’s author, Francesca Gino.

A tendency to favor a logical, reasoned approach is one of the most common characteristics of an accountant—it’s only logical that an accountant tuned in to his or her career development should work to hone these four critical soft-skill aptitudes, as well. Becker offers a variety of personal development CPE courses on demand including The Power of PositivityProblem Solving and Public Speaking and Presentation Skills. Check out our CPE catalog for a full list of offerings.