If you’re going to have a successful career in accountancy you must be able to communicate clearly and effectively about complex financial matters with people who may not be familiar with finance. It’s not surprising, then, that accountancy employers insist that candidates possess ‘strong oral and written communication skills’. If you read any of our graduate profiles in our ‘working lives’ section, you’ll see that every single graduate lists communication (or interpersonal) skills as being a vital component of a successful career in accountancy. But what exactly do ‘communication skills’ encompass, and how do you demonstrate them in your application and at interview?
It’s more than just talking
Communication is more of a package than an individual skill. Different employers will emphasise different aspects. KPMG, for example, stresses that candidates need to be able to ‘make an impact’, which means being able to communicate a point with clarity and purpose to colleagues and clients alike, thereby winning their respect. EY, on the other hand, focuses on communication-related strengths such as ‘empathetic connection’ (understanding what others are feeling), being an ‘explainer’ (making the complex seem simpler) and being a ’rapport-builder ‘– able to engage in conversation with others and build relationships. PwC also focuses on the relationship-building aspect of communication, saying it wants a candidate to communicate ‘with empathy’ because you’ll need to be able to network with clients, colleagues and other contacts in order to do your job effectively.
How can you develop your communication skills?
Many of the graduates we speak with say that if they had their time again they’d have worked on their communications skills more while at university. They didn’t realise how much of a role writing – reports, emails, internal and external communications – would play in their careers. So, if your actual degree work doesn’t require you to do a lot of writing, find some extra-curricular activities that do, to get some practice. It has also surprised many of the working graduates we speak to how much knowing the right people, and having good relationships with them, in addition to getting on with their work colleagues, is important in accountancy. They wished they had undertaken more social activities with new people at university so they could have broadened their understanding of working with different types of personalities.
How do you demonstrate your communication skills in your application?
Your ability to communicate well will be one of the most noticeable things about you during the application process, which is why getting it right is so important. Your application needs to be well written, easy to understand and tailored to the recruiter in question. Make sure you proofread it. Ideally, get someone else to read through it for a sense check.
And at interview and assessment centres?
Many accountancy firms will have devised specific tests to see how developed your communication skills are. Face to face communication is tested at interviews and at the assessment centre. PwC advises candidates at interview to:
- Listen carefully to what the interviewer is asking you
- Take time to consider your answer if necessary
- Express yourself clearly and concisely
- Be as specific as you can
- Ask considered questions about PwC or the business area you’re applying to
- Be truthful and concise, answer the exact questions asked and don't ramble about irrelevant things.
Remember that a lot of communication is non-verbal – don’t forget to shake hands, smile and make eye contact with your interviewer. This is one of the reasons why most application processes involve face-to-face interviews at some point or other.
Practice makes perfect
In advance of your interview, practice your communication skills. Can you show in your own words – in conversation or on paper – that you really know what accountancy is? Recruiters don’t expect in-depth knowledge, but a good grasp of the basics will help you and impress them. Avoid quoting from the organisation’s website at all costs! Can you connect your skills and experiences to what you understand about the area you want to enter?