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Making a career change to accountancy: the transferable skills that count

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If you're thinking about changing your career to become an accountant, you may think it's all about having technical expertise and sound financial guidance. This is all of course essential to the role. But in an ever more competitive job market, showing potential employers how you'll add value to their business is increasingly about demonstrating emotional intelligence.

The budding finance professional of today needs a range of 'soft skills' to impress. This might be great for you as there may be many skills you developed in your current career, which will be transferable. We've rounded up five that we think are important below.

1. Delegation

At first, delegation sounds like a breeze. Getting other people to do your work - what could be easier? But many people find it's harder to let go of their work than they thought, and are frustrated when they feel delegated tasks aren't completed to the standard that they expected.

For delegation success, ensure that you:

  • Delegate early - don't pass off a piece of work an hour before deadline!
  • Choose the right people - choose a member of your team who you think will deal well with the task at hand, and who isn't already overloaded with urgent work.
  • Give a clear brief - this is the golden rule. Ensure that you tell your team exactly what you expect in terms of an end product, and give them ample opportunity to ask questions.

2. Communication

Are you the life of the party or more of a wallflower? Either way, clear, constructive communication with colleagues is essential in any job, and there are a few simple guidelines you can follow to ensure that you're getting your message across professionally.

Think about your method of communication. Email is ever present in the workplace, but it's not always best. When you can, walk over to someone's desk and ask them in person. It's a more personal and direct approach that is often appreciated, and it can mean you'll get what you're looking for faster.

When you're talking to a colleague, think about your tone. Leave the slang and swearing at home, but there's no need to be overly formal - prefacing a request or a query regarding work with a casual question about someone's personal life often helps build trust in the long term.

If it's a conversation with your boss, re-phrasing and re-stating the information they've just given you is a great way of showing that you're taking on board what they're saying.

3. Time management

Good time management at work is essential for effective working and controlling stress levels. It's a good idea to treat it as a three-step process:

  • Prioritise - start the day by creating a list of your biggest priorities.
  • Make a plan - break your work day up into half-hour slots on a piece of paper, then sort your top priorities into these slots, so you have a plan for how the whole day will be spent.
  • Focus - stay focused in 25-minute bursts. At the end of each 25 minute burst, spend five minutes checking in with email and answering colleagues' questions.

The key is to know your priorities - don’t write the agenda for next week's Christmas party meeting before writing the report that's due at five, and to be realistic when planning your day.

4. Discretion

Working in finance, confidentiality comes with the territory. And for career advancement, it's essential to demonstrate to your bosses that you can be trusted with sensitive information.

Especially as you rise up the ranks, you'll find yourself trusted with more confidential data. You might be privy to who will be let go or who's going to receive a promotion. Even if you feel closer to your colleagues and team than your bosses, keeping this kind of information between yourself and those who trusted you enough to share it with you is a sign of real integrity, and maintaining this will help you throughout your career.

5. Flexibility

More than ever, job roles are becoming fluid. Are you good in a team or better working alone? An effective delegator or better at taking direction? Do you love talking to clients or do you prefer to execute delivery behind the scenes?

To compete in today's job market, it's a major advantage to be confident about all of the above. Early in your career, the best way to ensure you're a flexible worker is to gain experience in as many areas of the business as you can and continually throw yourself into new challenges. Try offering to take minutes at a client meeting to get some experience of how those are conducted, or go above and beyond on planning for a collaborative project and stretch your leadership legs.

It's an approach that's got side benefits too - you'll look enthusiastic to your bosses and start to get a feel for which areas of the business you're most interested in focusing on.

That's our top transferable skills if you're thinking of making a career change to accounting.

If you think you're up to the challenge, get started studying accountancy and finance with ACCA-X's free and affordable online courses. Visit the ACCA-X website to find out more.

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