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Succeeding as an accountant requires a lot more than number crunching skills. Louise Single, director of the Master of Accounting (MACT) program at St. Edward’s University, and Katherine Lopez, an assistant professor of Accounting at St. Edward’s, share some of the big-picture characteristics necessary to perform well and build a career in this field.

Good Communication Skills

Accountants may be known for their facility with spreadsheets, but the great ones are exceptional communicators. “Accountants must work well with their clients to get the data they need to complete their job,” explains Lopez. “They must also be able to work well with others within their tax, audit or consulting teams.”

Critical Thinking Skills

Whether a company is thinking about building an environmentally friendly new office or changing its product line, their accountants may have more ways to weigh in on those plans than they first imagine. “When accountants understand the big picture of the business — when they see the connections among issues that have nothing to do with the numbers at hand — they can use critical thinking skills to find ways to provide accounting-based solutions to a much broader range of problems,” says Single.

Methodical Thinking

Accountants can never be satisfied with “close enough” for their clients. “When accountants are doing someone’s tax returns or financial statements, they’ve got to get that bottom-line number exactly correct, or they’ve failed their clients. There’s no room for error,” explains Single. “They have to be detail-oriented and meticulous in their work style and quality.”

People Skills

During crunch times, accountants may put in up to 80 hours a week at the office — and those who can stay pleasant, professional and focused during these stressful weeks will have an advantage. As accountants move up the ladder, they’ll be responsible for landing clients and serving as business advisors, so people skills will continue to be essential.

Passion for the Field

Accountants can earn an enviable paycheck, but the dollars and cents won’t add up if every day is a drag. “It’s a demanding job and career — and it doesn’t get easier as they move up the ranks,” says Single. “It’s important for accountants to love their work.”

Strong Ethical Grounding

Accountants are the guardians of fair and truthful reporting in their company, and that comes with major responsibilities. “Because of their role in organizations, accountants have more opportunities than most people to spot wrongdoing,” says Single. “But it’s not enough to spot that wrongdoing — they must also do something about it.”

The Master of Accounting (MACT) program at St. Edward’s University helps students develop deep technical expertise in areas including accounting research, advanced federal taxation, and fraud examination. CPA pass rates for St. Edward’s University graduates are among the top five in the state.

Erin Peterson is a freelance writer.

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