Accounting professionals are in demand, with competition among businesses, public accounting firms and other employers hoping to recruit top candidates.

Finding and/or keeping qualified employees is the No. 1 issue for all but the smallest certified public accounting (CPA) firms nationwide, the American Institute of CPAs noted in a June 2015 survey.

Additionally, the hiring landscape in accounting and finance continues to brighten, according to a 2015 report by Robert Half, a worldwide staffing company.

But what qualities are employers seeking in accounting professionals? The right combination of technical proficiency, soft skills, specialized knowledge, credentials and education is needed.

In-Demand Specialties

Industry-related knowledge can be a vital asset in the accounting and finance field. With the financial services, healthcare and energy sectors facing increasing regulatory pressures, firms in those industries may seek job candidates with relevant experience. Demand may also be higher in the healthcare field as a result of the continuing rollout of the provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act.

As firms aim to boost efficiency and control costs, financial and business systems analysts may see expanding prospects. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) also notes that a rebounding global economy will likely improve employment prospects, including for accounting professionals in the trade and mergers and acquisitions sectors.

The fallout from the financial collapse – and the associated issues of corporate wrongdoing – has spotlighted the need for accounting and auditing services, according to the BLS. The federal agency projects that employment opportunities for accountants and auditors will outpace average job growth for all occupations at least through 2022.

In-Demand Skills

Technology know-how is becoming more valuable as the digital age transforms how businesses operate, including a continuing shift from reporting to analysis. This may place a premium on candidates whose experience working with “big data” and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems means they can translate information into actionable insights.

Specific skills and attributes sought by accounting firms and other employers may also include:

  • Experience in data analytics and advanced modeling techniques
  • Aptitude in business intelligence and financial management applications such as Oracle Hyperion and IBM Cognos
  • Knowledge of U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rules and other regulatory requirements

Candidates for accounting positions may be expected to demonstrate superior interpersonal skills, including a collaborative and team-oriented approach. Excellent verbal and written communication skills are also typical requirements, as accounting professionals must be able to effectively convey their findings and recommendations to clients, colleagues and executives.

Given the rapid advances in technology and the addition of regulatory requirements, accountants and auditors can be expected to be quick learners who take innovate approaches to dealing with change.

A recent survey by Robert Half and the American Institute of CPAs identified the most popular skills that accounting and finance professionals want to attain. Those include: management; public speaking; tax knowledge; analytical; and communication.

“To recruit and retain accounting and finance professionals, businesses must know what these individuals desire in a workplace,” noted the survey, The People Puzzle: Building and Retaining a Talented Accounting and Finance Team.

Education and Certification

While a bachelor’s degree in Accounting or a related field may be the minimum educational requirement for some accounting positions, employers may require candidates to have advanced qualifications. Applicable graduate degrees include a Master of Business Administration with a specialization in Accounting, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A variety of specialized certifications also are available to professionals in the accounting and finance fields; some may be requirements for employment or career advancement in specific areas.

Those certifications include: Certified Public Accountant (CPA); Certified Management Accountant (CMA); Certified Internal Auditor (CIA); and Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA).

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