Ever-evolving technology is changing the way accountants do their jobs, and recent graduates with a background in both accounting and information technology are prized recruits.
A recent intern hire at California-based Ueltzen & Company weighed several offers, some from larger firms, before accepting a position at the forensic accounting firm. His dual major in accounting and information technology made him “sought after by everyone,” according to Michael Ueltzen, CPA/CFF, a partner at the firm.
Accounting firms prize technological skills largely because of the rise of Big Data—and its analysis. Technology also is evolving in data security, both in response to, and in advance of, cybersecurity risks. Tomorrow’s accountants should expect more interaction with IT, legal, and operations because security now encompasses all aspects of a business, said David Zweighaft, CPA/CFF, and managing director of DSZ Forensic Accounting and Consulting Services.
Here are some of the skills you should learn to stand out from your peers in the accounting profession:
Go back to basics: Master Excel
Students need to master Microsoft Excel, both because spreadsheets are widely used in accounting and also because it’s the foundation for working with more advanced software, said Eileen Taylor, a professor of accounting at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. For instance, powerful data interrogation software such as IDEA and ACL can take data from multiple sources—such as Excel—and produce reports. But all accounting majors already know Excel like the back of their hand, right? Not necessarily. William Brown, director of the master’s of accounting program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said that some accounting firms still see recent graduates with subpar Excel skills.
Learn how to digitally interrogate data
In the past, students could get away without knowing much about database designs or how to query them. But now accounting is increasingly demanding better understanding of how data is stored and how to pull it from a database, Taylor said. After all, software analyzing a database is only as good as the query used to find the information.
Develop critical thinking skills
Today’s software is powerful and versatile. Yet it’s up to the accountant to evaluate the information that the software provides, Brown said. Adds Taylor: “You need to make sure that you know what’s going on so you don’t over-rely on computer software to tell you the answer.”
Hone data presentation skills
After all the queries and analysis, CPAs eventually must present their findings. That means learning to use software programs that help accountants communicate their findings with data visualization and illustrative graphics. But that’s not all young CPAs will need to learn. Ueltzen says he sees plenty of students graduate with a firm grounding in technical skills. In shorter supply, though, is a mastery of communication basics—written and oral communication skills that allow accountants to effectively transfer their knowledge to clients.
Already a technology master? See if you’ve got the soft skills you need to succeed in the profession.