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Essential Accounting Skills for Career Success

By Steve Smith

The information presented here is true and accurate as of the date of publication. DeVry’s programmatic offerings and their accreditations are subject to change. Please refer to the current academic catalog for details.


June 28, 2024

11 min read

Accountants, auditors and financial analysts all play vital roles in today’s rapidly changing and technologically advanced world, helping individuals and businesses navigate their financial concerns and helping them work toward financial health.

If you’re preparing to pursue a career in accounting, you’ll need to develop a solid foundation of accounting skills like a knowledge of laws and regulations and how to do financial reporting, but you’ll also need to stay up to date with the industry’s best practices, technology and any evolving standards at every stage of your career.

In this discussion, we will examine the broad range of technical and workplace skills required to embark on your accounting career journey. We’ll also talk about the education you’ll need to acquire and describe some of the steps you might take toward becoming an accountant.

Accountant Technical Skills

From an understanding of accounting principles to emerging trends in data management and analysis, several technical accounting skills are essential to meet the demands of this occupation.

Understanding of GAAP

GAAP is the set of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, a multi-dimensional structure of principles, assumptions and constraints that was developed as a means of standardizing the way accountants work across businesses and industries. This standardization serves to make accounting easier for investors to review and use the information from companies’ financial statements.

Accounting software knowledge

Accountants and auditors need to stay current with the technologies used in their occupation. This includes Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software for business payroll, budgeting, purchasing, personnel and accounts payable and receivable. 

NetSuite, Striven, Denali Business, Multiview ERP, AccountingCS and Xledger are all examples of accounting software used to manage workflows and documentation, and to facilitate the management of accounting practices of all sizes. Some applications can be used either on-premises or in the cloud and are suitable for a variety of industries. 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) underscores the importance of having robust technical skills, noting that accountants and auditors may use technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics process automation to increase their productivity by automating routine tasks. 

Preparing financial statements

Financial reporting, which helps various stakeholders and authorities understand a company’s financial condition, is among the key responsibilities of accountants.

They regularly prepare 4 basic financial statements as required by GAAP:

  • Balance Sheet: Itemizes a company’s assets, liabilities and shareholders’ equity at the end of an annual reporting period, providing a summary of a company’s financial condition in the briefest possible format.

  • Income Statement: Covering a specific range of time, income statements report the revenues, expenses, net income and earnings per share during that period.

  • Cash Flow Statement: Along with the balance sheet and income statement, cash flow statements show how cash moves through a company. Tracking where money is coming from and how it’s being spent allows investors to understand the viability of a company’s operations and the stability of its finances.

  • Statement of Changes in Shareholder Equity: Correlating to the balance sheet for the same accounting period, this statement includes beginning equity, net income, dividends and other income. The balance on the change of equity statement will match the equity reported on the balance sheet.

Management accountants may use these and other accounting skills to produce many more specialized types of reports relative to a company’s cost structure and profitability.

Data management and analysis

Four primary types of data analytics help accountants take a deep dive into the numbers behind financial reports, assess and understand past events, make predictions or propose new actions:

  • Descriptive analytics: Looking backward at events during a specific period, this type of analysis covers metrics like revenue, new customers, regional sales performance and others. Dashboards informed by descriptive analytics help accountants and other leaders visualize trends.

  • Diagnostic analytics: Also focusing on historical data, diagnostic analytics help explain why events, like gains and losses in revenue or customers, have occurred. Together, descriptive and diagnostic analytics contextualize and provide an understanding of the past to help plan for the future.

  • Predictive analytics: This advanced analytical discipline uses historical data to try and predict future events, allowing for better preparation and business planning. It can also help calculate credit risk or identify early signs of fraud.

  • Prescriptive analytics: Prescriptive analytics can be used to determine what actions a company should take next. Considering the insights of the three other analytics types, prescriptive analytics looks at what happened, why it happened and what is likely to happen in the future, then provides guidance for data-driven business decisions.

Accountant Soft Skills

A variety of workplace skills enable accountants to excel in their work, inspire confidence in their clients and coworkers and maintain the highest ethical standards.

Critical thinking

In accounting, critical thinking skills are used to evaluate reports and respond to issues such as customer non-payment, overages or budget-balancing conundrums. This essential skill helps accountants fully understand a problem and formulate potential solutions while considering the cost-benefit analysis of their actions.

Time management

For accountants, effective time management is more than just getting more work done by the end of the business day. In this occupation, it also involves maintaining the cadence of reports and payments to federal, state and local authorities and, in some cases, making sure the payroll is managed in a timely fashion.


You may think accounting is only about numbers, but the ability to communicate with confidence and clarity is every bit as important as it is in any other job. When making presentations or proposals, strong written and verbal communications that are easily understandable for various audiences, are essential to convey information, ideas, insights and predictions.

Attention to detail

Consistency and accuracy are crucial in financial reporting. Attention to detail helps accountants minimize the potential for errors that could trigger audits or investigations by taxing authorities. This skill is particularly useful in forensic accounting, helping to identify inconsistencies in information or uncover evidence of financial fraud.


Rarely working in isolation, accountants use soft skills like collaboration as they interact with other departments, clients or auditors. This entails a mixture of skills like active listening, conflict resolution and empathy.

How to Build Your Accounting Skills

Your approach to developing accounting skills will depend on your personal and professional goals, as well as what education you acquire along the way.

You may want to prepare to pursue a career working in a public accounting firm or in the finance department of a large enterprise, pursue a career in business or may simply want to advance in the career you already have. In that case, sharpening your accounting skills may help you stand out to future employers, or help you be a better qualified candidate for management-level roles.

Take individual accounting courses

At DeVry and our Keller Graduate School of Management, our graduate and undergraduate accounting courses cover topics like Financial Accounting, Auditing, Taxation and Accounting Information Systems. Some classes can help you prepare to pursue certifications like the CPA (Certified Public Accountant)1 or CMA® (Certified Management Accountant).

Pursue accounting degree and certificate programs

Our online accounting degree programs are designed to help you align your education with your career path, whether you choose to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting, Master’s Degree in Accounting or MBA with a Specialization in Accounting.

If you’ve already earned a bachelor’s degree and want to take the next step toward preparing to pursue an accounting certification, our online Graduate Certificate in Accounting Certification Preparation program may be a good choice. By selecting either the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Exam Preparation1 or Certified Management Accountant (CMA) Exam Preparation emphasis, you can more closely align what you learn in this program to your professional goals and the certifications you plan on pursuing.

How to Become an Accountant

Your accounting career journey will encompass several milestones: education, work experience, certifications and continuing education.


According to occupational outlook data from the BLS, accountants and auditors typically need a bachelor’s degree, in accounting or a related field, for entry-level employment. The BLS further notes that some employers may prefer to hire applicants who have a master’s degree, either in Accounting or an MBA with a Specialization in Accounting.

Here at DeVry, our online Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting program is designed to teach you skills in critical thinking, judgement and decision making, financial accounting, auditing, accounting information systems and federal income taxation. Coursework in accounting, business, finance and management is complemented by mathematics, social sciences, humanities and more, offering a strong foundational understanding of business, economics, government and society.

Work experience

To gain work experience that may help you stand out as a candidate for an entry-level accounting role, look for internships and mentorships at public accounting firms or businesses. These kinds of opportunities will give you experience working alongside accounting professionals while getting a feel for the occupation’s real-life work environment.

You may also consider taking a part-time job in bookkeeping or some other administrative role, allowing you to acquire resume-building, transferrable workplace skills.

Networking is another important aspect of any job search. Consider joining professional accounting associations to gain access to their conferences, workshops and other resources. The American Accounting Association and AICPA both offer student affiliate memberships. Alumni from your college can also be a source of information, job leads or mentorship. By reaching out to them for a meet-up or phone call, you may be cultivating lasting professional relationships.

Accounting certifications

Certifications play an important role in the accounting field, aside from verifying your skills. The professional certifications you earn will depend on the type of accounting career you pursue.

For example, the CPA certification1 involves both certification and licensing by a Board of Accountancy and is required to pursue this career path. If you choose to pursue opportunities outside of public accounting however, whether in management accounting, internal auditing or government accounting for example, other certifications will apply.

Here are a few credentials relevant to the accounting field:

  • The Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is a widely known credential in the public accounting field. CPA candidates must meet certain education requirements, have 2 years of public accounting experience, and pass the 4-part Uniform CPA Exam. The CPA credential verifies skills in auditing and attestation, financial accounting and reporting, regulation and business environment and concepts.

  • The Certified Management Accountant (CMA) credential is offered to applicants who have completed a bachelor’s degree and have work experience in management accounting. The two-part CMA Exam verifies a range of management accounting skills, including financial planning, cost management, analytics, financial statement analysis, risk management and corporate finance.

  • The Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) is an internationally recognized credential that verifies the knowledge and skills required to carry out any internal audit. It is offered to graduates of accounting programs who have work experience as internal auditors.

  • The Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM) credential is available to accountants or auditors working for federal, state or local governments. Recognizing the specialized skills unique to government financial management, the CGFM is available to accountants or auditors with at least 2 years of professional experience in this field. Three comprehensive exams verify skills in areas like accounting, auditing, financial reporting, internal controls and budgeting.

Acquire Your Essential Accounting Skills with Help From DeVry

Whether you’re taking the first steps toward an accounting career, aspiring to step into a more senior-level role or preparing to pursue industry certification, our accounting degree and certificate programs can help you acquire many skills that are demanded by today’s data-driven and technology-enabled accounting field.

At DeVry and our Keller Graduate School of Management, we make it easy to align your education with your professional goals. Our experienced faculty will share their knowledge and insight into the way businesses manage their finances and help you as you prepare to pursue certifications like the CPA1 or CMA if you’re a student of our Master’s Degree in Accounting and our Master’s Degree in Accounting and Financial Management or our Graduate Certificate in Accounting Certification Preparation programs.

Our undergraduate and graduate-level accounting programs are infused with the latest concepts of the modern accounting profession. Our Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting program includes elements of Becker Professional Education’s industry-leading content, and at the graduate level, our Master’s Degrees in Accounting and Graduate Certificate in Accounting Certification Exam Preparation incorporate Becker’s CPA Exam Prep into their curricula.

DeVry’s Accounting programs have received specialized accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP,

Scholarships and grants may help make your education more affordable.3 Talking with a DeVry Admissions Representative can help you explore options that work for you.

1Credits and degrees earned from DeVry, including Keller, do not automatically qualify the holder to sit for professional licensing exams to practice certain professions. For example, the educational requirements for Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensure and/or certification vary by state (and U.S. territory). The differences in the number of accounting course hours and the specific accounting course topics required may impact a student's ability to sit for the Uniform CPA exam and apply for licensure in different jurisdictions. Students interested in practicing a regulated profession must contact the appropriate state regulatory agency for licensing requirements in their field of interest and Students are responsible for contacting the state board of accountancy for the jurisdiction in which they are applying to confirm whether they have completed the appropriate credit hours and coursework to qualify to take the CPA exam. DeVry University and its Keller Graduate School of Management are not able to advise on or determine if or when any student may be eligible to sit for the CPA exam or otherwise satisfy licensing criteria in any state. Visit  for additional information.

2Student Achievement At-a-Glance - Available for all of DeVry and Keller's ACBSP accredited programs. For a full list of DeVry University's business and accounting degree programs accredited by ACBSP, please see the Accreditation page.

3Scholarships are available to those who apply and qualify. Click here for more information, including any requirements or restrictions. Students may participate in only one DeVry University-based scholarship, grant or group tuition benefit program at a time. Those who qualify for more than one program will be presumed to accept the program with the highest reduction per session cost, unless the students confirms their desire to participate in different program in writing prior to starting classes at DeVry. Scholarship and grant terms and eligibility conditions are subject to change.

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