Every year, the accounting profession becomes more dynamic and complex, mostly due to the rise of technology and automation across industries. It’s no longer enough to have an accounting background; students need to have skills relevant to the industry allowing them to jump into an entry-level role without a huge amount of training.

Even the CPA Exam has shifted away from simply memorizing accounting related concepts; if you want to pass the CPA Exam, you’ll need critical thinking and communication skills. Luckily, you can easily build these skills with some practice, no matter where you are in your schooling. If you want your resume to stand out to potential employers, check out these skills accounting students should have to set themselves apart in 2020.

Essential Skills to Help You Stand Out as an Accounting Student – And How to Develop Them

Information technology and knowledge of information systems

Artificial Intelligence, automation, and dynamic and diverse information systems play a huge role in the accounting profession, and this role is only expected to grow as the industry moves to become more efficient on a variety of platforms. Students familiar with information technology and how information systems work will have a distinct advantage over those who don’t.

Many accounting programs now incorporate at least one class focused on information systems, but gaining more experience in the area outside of required courses will help you stand out to potential employers. One way to gain experience is to pick up a minor in information systems or information technology. This will introduce you to the newest and most relevant new technologies out there; from there you can decide how they pertain to a career in accounting. A few other ways you can get experience are by tinkering with different technologies, volunteering in a technological capacity, or gaining certifications in relevant technologies.

Business analytics

Business analytics often start with analyzing data and end with optimizing the operations of a business. Technological advances have made many industries highly competitive, and one of the best ways to get ahead is by having a thorough understanding of business processes and knowing how to make those processes as efficient and effective as possible. Business analytics have always been relevant, but the amount and depth of information available to be analyzed in today’s environment takes the analysis to an entirely new level. If accounting students want to be relevant to employers, no matter which career path they choose, they need to know how to work with data to help businesses grow into a changing future.

Analysis skills can be developed every day. If you’ve always been a big picture person, try analyzing more of the details in your everyday life. A healthy curiosity and inquisitive nature will teach you to analyze the world around you in more detail. Learning SQL or statistical languages will definitely give your resume a boost for business analytics skills. If your college offers it, take a class on business analytics to again boost your actual experience with the skill.

More than basic Excel knowledge

Ten years ago, you could get away with not very much experience with Excel going into a job. Learning on the job was fairly normal. Now, if you want to stand out to potential employers as an accounting student, you need to learn how to use Excel. On top of that, it’s important for accounting students to know more than the basics; moving through tables, formatting cells, or performing simple functions are expected for all new employees. If you want to stand out, you’ll have to prove you can do all of these things and more.

One of the easiest ways to get good at Excel is by getting the program and using it on a daily basis. There are plenty of free online tutorials that will walk you through accounting basics, as well as more advanced topics like pivot tables, vlookups, and other complicated and relevant accounting related functions. If you want to make sure you’re learning the most up-to-date accounting topics in Excel, check out Surgent’s Excel course.

Soft skills

No matter the position, soft skills are always important to have and continue to cultivate. We’ve listed a few important soft skills you’ll want to work on below:

Communication. Being able to communicate honestly and effectively, both verbally and in written form, is absolutely key to standing out as an accounting student. It’s also a great life skill to have for any business relationship. If you feel like your communication skills aren’t up to par, you can practice by communicating more with your classmates and professors both in and out of the classroom. Visit professors to talk about your performance in class, and get involved in group projects or study groups. Another great way to develop communication skills is by joining on-campus clubs such as Beta Alpha Psi, or any club that strikes your interest and gets you communicating with other people.

Professionalism. A great way to show emotional maturity is by displaying professionalism as an accounting student. Professionalism includes admitting your mistakes, stepping up to lead, and acting in a way that proves you’re ready to work in a business environment. If you want to hone this skill, start by improving your communication skills like we mentioned above. Then start exploring leadership roles, and making sure your ethics are aligned with the financial services industry.

Teamwork. Most jobs and industries in today’s business environment have some element of teamwork. Accounting is no different. Despite the stereotypical idea of an accountant working in a back room all alone, you’ll come across team environments in every area of accounting, from audit to tax to industry. Teamwork skills can best be developed by, you guessed it, working with teams. Jump into group projects, get involved outside of the classroom with accounting related groups, and form study groups for each of your classes. Learn to work with others to succeed as an individual.

Adaptability. The accounting industry has changed drastically in the last 20 years, and those changes are only expected to continue as Artificial Intelligence, automation, and data analytics play larger roles within the industry. Accounting students today have to prove they can adapt to new situations, new laws, and new technologies. As you learn about information systems and business analytics, take some time to research where these technologies are headed in the future. You may not learn about this in class, so proving to employers that you’re well versed in the potentials shows you’re ready to adapt to any situation the job may throw at you.

Curiosity. Curiosity often seems reserved for more creative careers, but having a lifelong love of learning also comes into play in the accounting industry. As we have mentioned over and over above, accounting is a dynamic industry, and you may have a dynamic career. Don’t be afraid to research different areas in accounting, and be willing to learn about various areas of the financial services industry. Curiosity will not only help you adapt to a changing environment, but it will help you to consistently strive to find a job you love and be the best you can be in your career.

By going above and beyond the basic skills necessary to become an accountant, you’ll not only boost your chances of passing the CPA Exam, but you’ll prove to employers you’re ready to jump into any role you’re presented with.

Megan Bierwirth graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and passed the CPA exam within six months of graduation. She worked in both public accounting and industry while becoming a CPA and now runs a virtual bookkeeping company focused on preventive, integrative and complementary medicine professionals.