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Accountancy and financial management
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Hard rock and accountancy: the dual careers of ex-Guns N' Roses bassist, and how communication skills are at the heart of them

Former Guns N' Roses bassist Duff McKagan has a successful career in hard rock, and another in accountancy - communication skills are at the heart of both.
Hiring finance staff with excellent communication skills is more vital than ever.

After rupturing his pancreas in 1994, Duff McKagan, then bassist for Guns N’ Roses, decided to spend some of his recovery time examining his personal financial statements and those of the band. He quickly realised he couldn’t make sense of them, and didn’t feel he had anyone who would communicate honestly and clearly with him. As he explains to Fortune Magazine, ‘I didn't trust anybody’. So he embarked on a degree in finance and, once qualified, created the appropriately named Meridian Rock, a wealth management company offering financial advice to musicians.

Let's be clear

Meridian Rock's three tenets are righteousness, transparency and education. If his clients are anything like he was at 30, McKagan says, when faced with financial information they don’t understand, ‘They're too embarrassed to ask. I didn't know what a stock was, what a bond was.’ If you’re going to have a successful career in accountancy you must be able to communicate with people who are not familiar with finance. It’s not surprising then, that accountancy firms insist that candidates possess ‘strong oral and written communication skills’. In a recent survey of chief financial officers conducted by KPMG, most stressed that as new demands are placed on the finance function in organisations, hiring finance staff with excellent communication skills is more vital than ever. 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?

When targetjobs.co.uk surveyed working graduate accountants last year, many said they wished they had started their jobs equipped with better communication skills and commented that if they had their time again they’d have worked on them 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 also surprised our survey respondents 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. Written communication is tested at Deloitte via various report making tasks, whereas face to face communication is tested at interviews and at the assessment centre. BDO advises candidates at interview to:

  • be clear – don't speak too fast, avoid slang, profanity or acronyms and avoid informal or cliché expressions
  • be concise – avoid rambling.
  • be conversational (not over-rehearsed) and show your sense of humour.
  • be honest.

Remember that a lot of communication is non-verbal – don’t forget to shake hands and smile. 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?

And finally… for those of you who aspire to be accountants but don’t want to give up on the rock ‘n’ roll dream, here’s some good news: you can have both! McKagan successfully combines dispensing financial advice and being vocalist and guitarist for Duff McKagan’s Loaded.

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