*This article is also available on LinkedIn.
Millennial undergraduate and graduate accountants are not often given the experience to be client-facing from day 1, which is an error of judgement on the part of the employer as it does not allow them to develop their soft skills. Chris Hooper, however, provided myself and my colleagues with this opportunity from the moment we started as undergraduate accountants at Accodex (then Cirillo Hooper & Company). Soft skill development is often overlooked in the accounting profession, especially in the Big 4 and mid-tier firms. Millennials do not receive as many opportunities to practice building their soft skills with people external to the organisation, such as clients and other business professionals. With scut work (workpapers, bookkeeping, etc) being automated due to advances in cloud technology, young accountants are finding themselves increasingly disengaged from their work, and will “firm jump” in the hopes of gaining more experience – usually in the first 6 to 12 months.
Three key soft skills that are essential for millennial accountants are:
- Emotional intelligence [EQ]
- Time management
Emotional intelligence (EQ) has been flagged as one of the most important non-technical skills that a leader can possess (Goleman 2004, pp 82-91). EQ is ingrained into everyone, not just leaders, but it is also a learned behaviour, meaning you can train yourself to be more aware of others’ emotions. Being able to understand others’ emotions leads to being able to build rapport, ensuring that you have stronger working relationships and better communication between individuals. Understanding the concepts and principles of emotional intelligence is important for millennial accountants as they need to build relationships with key individuals in their organisation and wider networks.
Communication is linked with Emotional Intelligence. Being able to communicate and articulate your point concisely is key to being able to build rapport with others, especially when you are still in the early years of your accounting career. Utilising the principles of emotional intelligence in every interaction will ensure that you are building rapport and understand the emotional response of the person you are talking to. Being a good communicator and utilising emotional intelligence is imperative when speaking to people from different countries and cultures as each country and culture has different nuances in terms of how they communicate and express emotions.
Time management is key to being able to get high “billable hours” in most firms. It is important to being able to balance your work duties, for example balancing producing work versus time spent in meetings, and ensures that you are not jumping between jobs. Effective time management allows individuals to prioritise activities according to their importance. Being able to successfully manage your time will ensure that you are noticed by your managers and given the opportunity for progression. Useful methods of balancing what work is required to be fulfilled each week that enable you to manage your time are Kanban and Scrum. Although they are project management methodologies, they are still useful for managing your client work and your additional duties within the workplace.
I recommend all millennial accountants, whether you are still an undergraduate or not, to focus on these three key soft skills, they have helped me immensely in my career progression from Undergraduate Accountant to Business Development Executive.
If you want any clarification on the above, please let me know in the comments or send me a LinkedIn message.
Goleman, D 2004, ‘What makes a leader’, Harvard Business Review, vol. 82, no. 1 pp. 82-91.