How to start your career in accounting: A guide for beginners in finance
A strong foundation in accounting principles, technical proficiency in software and systems, & skills like communication & collaboration are very important .
Data, financial information, and the ability to comprehend multiple data points drive business in this time and age. Embarking on a career in accounting is akin to unlocking a treasure trove of opportunities. The realm of finance is a cornerstone of business operations, offering a gateway to diverse industries, roles, and financial success.
Research has confirmed that an early career in accountancy and finance builds the foundation for future leadership roles across the business and there is a growing trend that more and more CEOs are from accounting and finance background as they understand the business better.
Aspiring accountants should consider internships or entry-level positions to gain hands-on experience and insight into the daily responsibilities of the role. Networking is also essential; attending industry events, and connecting with established professionals can lead to valuable mentorship opportunities and potential job referrals.
Job seekers should tailor resumes highlighting relevant skills, experiences, and certifications.
Additionally, preparing for interviews by practicing common accounting-related questions and showcasing problem-solving abilities can set candidates apart from the competition.
Before embarking on a career in accounting and finance, it is crucial to understand more about what a career in this profession entails.
Foundational Principles: building a solid knowledge base
Like any other career path, a firm grasp of foundational principles is the fundamental stepping stone. For newcomers joining the workforce, employers look for a strong foundation in accounting principles and an ability to grasp new concepts quickly. Attention to detail and an excellent ability to analyse reams of data and solve complex problems are essential.
Accounting is the language of business, enabling organisations to assess their financial health, make strategic decisions, and comply with changing and dynamic regulatory standards. As a beginner, it's crucial to start with the basics: comprehend the fundamentals such as debit and credit, read financial statements (income statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statement), and understand the principles of accrual accounting.
Formal education is often the first step in building this knowledge base. A bachelor's degree in accounting, finance, or a related field provides a strong foundation, offering courses that cover many topics, from tax regulations to auditing practices. Additionally, pursuing professional certifications demonstrates a commitment to excellence and opens doors to advanced roles and increased earning potential.
Mastering tools of the trade
In the digital age, technical proficiency is a non-negotiable requirement. New-age companies also need innovative thinking and thought processes, especially in new-age business models and companies. Technically, proficiency in accounting software, spreadsheet programs, and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems is paramount. Understanding software tools like QuickBooks, Microsoft Excel, and SAP will help streamline repetitive tasks, enhance accuracy, and boost efficiency in financial reporting, data analysis, and budgeting.
Understanding the basics of accounting systems such as the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) is essential, as these standards guide financial reporting practices worldwide. Accounting standards are constantly upgraded to address emerging business practices, economic changes, and advancements in accounting theory.
Moreover, as businesses turn more global, companies often operate in multiple countries and must adhere to various accounting standards. Familiarity with IFRS and GAAP can facilitate accurate financial reporting across different jurisdictions. It also helps build investor confidence since they rely on consistent and comparable financial information to make informed decisions.
Accounting professionals demonstrating a solid understanding of accounting standards are likelier to advance in their careers, especially in auditing, financial analysis, and regulatory compliance roles.
The growing importance of soft skills
One must look at building a career in accounting, similar to building a new structure. Technical skills are vital and provide the foundation for the design, while soft skills are the bridges and pillars that connect accountants to the broader business landscape. Communication and collaboration are key pillars that can significantly elevate an accounting professional's career trajectory.
Accountants don't operate in isolation; they collaborate with cross-functional teams, interact with clients, and present financial insights to non-financial stakeholders. Clear and concise communication skills are crucial to explaining complex financial concepts to individuals, not from a finance background.
Developing strong interpersonal skills fosters effective collaboration, enabling accountants to work seamlessly with colleagues from diverse backgrounds.
Thriving in a dynamic field
The accounting world is not static; and evolves with advancements in technology, changes in regulations, and shift in business paradigm and plans. Continuous learning is essential for long-term success in the field.
As mentioned earlier, engaging in professional development opportunities, such as attending workshops and pursuing advanced certifications, keeps accountants abreast of the latest trends and best practices. For instance, staying informed about developments in data analytics, automation, and artificial intelligence is crucial, as these technologies play an important role in accounting functions.
Seasoned professionals can offer invaluable insights for beginners looking to forge their paths. Flexibility is important. The accounting field offers diverse roles from tax and audit to management accounting in every sector. Accountancy frequently serves as a stepping stone for aspiring entrepreneurs due to its robust foundation in financial knowledge. One should be keen on exploring different areas before finding their niche.
Ethics are at the core of the accounting profession. Upholding integrity in financial reporting and decision-making builds stakeholder trust and sets the foundation for a lasting career. From understanding foundational principles to mastering technical tools and cultivating soft skills, beginners can pave a path toward success. A commitment to continuous learning serves as a guiding star, leading aspiring accountants through the dynamic landscape of finance and ensuring that their knowledge is always up to date. As they take their first steps into this realm, embracing these insights ensures they confidently navigate their journey toward a thriving career.
(Author Mohammed Sajid Khan is Director – India at ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. Views expressed here are personal.)