What it takes to be a great CPA

8 interview questions hiring managers should ask

Tuesday, Nov. 10 was International Accountants Day, so it seems as good a time as any to celebrate one of the most underappreciated professions by exploring the qualities that make for a great certified public accountant. The CPA is the unsung hero of the tax and finance world. Every business needs them, in one capacity or another, to succeed. It’s a good time to look for accounting jobs for just that reason. Not only are accountants more in demand than ever before, they’re also happy in their work.

“7 in 10 accountants wouldn’t change their careers even if they could.”

According to a recent survey conducted by Accountemps, about 7 in 10 workers in accounting and finance jobs wouldn’t change their careers even if they could go back and start all over again. They feel that way despite the classic misconceptions that all accountants do is crunch numbers, or that their jobs are boring. Real accountants know that a clear communication ability, interpersonal skills and proficiency with the latest technologies all go with the territory. Real accountants know that they are CEOs and forensic experts and information technology managers – and that knowledge gives them pride.

The fact that accounting consistently makes the list of majors with the highest return on investment, with salaries set to rise about 5 percent in 2016, is a bit more consolation.

But what defines a great CPA? What are the qualities they share, no matter their current position within a company or practice? Here are a few traits to look for.

They know all the latest technology.
Being up-to-date on the newest software is a professional necessity, and every good CPA stays on top of industry trends to make sure that their business has every advantage available to them. A solid grasp on the technology you used five years ago in college isn’t going to cut it. Just as an accountant wouldn’t want to lose track of any changes in the tax code, or of the industry’s general accepted accounting principles (GAAP), they wouldn’t want to fall behind in the technology race. That’s why a great accountant attends conferences to keep up with the lightning pace of new developments.

They can be trusted with confidences, and they’re accountable for their mistakes. 
It’s too easy to point a finger at another employee when a challenge presents itself, and that’s why great accountants don’t do it. If the buck reliably stops with them, and they are taking ownership of both their successes and their occasional mistakes, then that person is one who deserves a level of trust. Just because the relationship between a client and an accountant is often solely about numbers doesn’t mean that trustworthiness isn’t essential. Their bond makes facing potentially stressful financial issues a whole lot easier. That’s why great accountants are also ethical accountants.

A great CPA thinks outside the box to solve client issues. A great CPA thinks outside the box to solve client issues.

They’re creative problem solvers. 
Plenty of people would look at you strangely if you told them a great accountant needed a creative side, but that’s only because plenty of people don’t understand just how much clients rely on their CPAs for fresh thinking. An innovative, cost-effective strategy that solves a client’s problems should be a part of any great CPA’s repertoire. Accountants capable of thinking outside the box are ones who offer their company a skill whose value is hard to measure.

They’re well organized, from their data charts to their desk space. 
Maybe it’s a paradox that the most creative accountants are also usually the best organized accountants. To maintain order of all the paperwork, data charts and thousands of figures they deal with every day, a great CPA needs to be a stellar organizer. Not only does easily retrievable information save clients money, but it allows a CPA to dedicate more time and resources to analysis and their many other responsibilities, thereby maximizing their efficiency.

Managing a business’ finances isn’t easy, but it is rewarding, and accountants take pride in their work. Great accountants, like those celebrated on Nov. 10, are accountants who push themselves in every way to get better, whether that’s by staying informed of all the new technology, or approaching problems in original ways. A varied range of experiences and plenty of employment opportunities mean that the business world is looking for great CPAs like never before.