Social skills for accountants

I was being considered for an internal vacancy recently. Sadly, I narrowly missed out on it so I asked if there was anything I could address to give me a better chance next time.

I was told that my technical accounting knowledge and IT skills were more than sufficient and, although my practical experience was a little weak, that wasn’t a real concern.

The interview panel believed that I am too introverted; that I lacked the confidence and communication skills to go out into the business and deal with the various client departments. I disagree, but I’m not sure how to be seen to display the correct sort of behaviours.

So what does constitute an extroverted accountant? (The joke answer is someone who stares at *your* shoes when they talk to you, so perhaps an introverted accountant doesn’t look at their own?) I’m not convinced introversion is a character flaw, and I believe “quiet” and “unconfident” are two very different things.

The question is; how would you go about developing and displaying the ‘correct’ social skills for the multinational corporate workplace? Especially convincing management that you have addressed these weaknesses in your skill-set.

Comments

  • SandyHood
    SandyHood Registered, Moderator Posts: 2,034
    Bookworm
    I hope you receive responses from people with better knowledge than me. You can certainly take what I have to say with a pinch of salt.
    There is a lot to be said for the accountant with poor social skills. The person who is engrossed in the computer and the numbers and really struggles with small talk still has a role in 2012. In many respects this is the person who is unlikely to disclose confidential data and is going to give the job total commitment.
    Your employer may not be looking for such a person, but others will.
    The interview panel believed that I am too introverted; that I lacked the confidence and communication skills to go out into the business and deal with the various client departments. I disagree, but I’m not sure how to be seen to display the correct sort of behaviours.
    Well either they are right or they are wrong. But they gathered their evidence one way or another.
    1. The interview itself. I suspect that you did not communicate your self-confidence in your ability to address issues in the departments you would work with. You may have been responsive to their questions but perhaps your firm is looking for more from you in terms of eye contact and clarification of both the role and how you would handle the more difficult (perhaps arrogant) people you would encounter in these departments. Did your questions communicate your belief in yourself (as far as you are concerned, you already know what the panel have said)?
    2. Your work in your current role. As you were an internal candidate, the panel either know you already or can ask for information from people you work with. If they have typecast you as a quiet number cruncher who would probably not stand-up for yourself that may well influence their decision.

    Have a think now. Is this the sort of job you really want? Would you be happier dealing with other departments or happier not having that aspect to the job?

    If you would be happier in a role with more communication, then work at that aspect within your current job whenever there is an opportunity.

    Good luck
    And by all means disregard my points if you wish.
    Sandy
    [email protected]
    www.sandyhood.com
  • PGM
    PGM Registered Posts: 1,954
    People that are overly confident and sure of themselves seem to do well in life, by the time people realise exactly how good they are, of they ever do, its too late!
  • Dcollins
    Dcollins Registered Posts: 179 ? ? ?
    You already seem to be taking the right approach just by asking them the question, and trying to figure out what to do about it.

    Does your firm have an appraisal system? If so can you get involved in the process and include personal development and communication skills in your goals/targets? Does your firm have a training budget, or could you pay for courses yourself? Any leadership or management course, book or info will be predominantly about communication. Courses are good because you get to practice skills rather than just read about what to do. And you can put them on your CV, and hopefully incorporate them into your work life.

    At work are there any opportunities to get involved with other departments? Can you shadow a confident, professional colleague for a day, and observe how he/she acts? Are there opportunities to work away from your desk, or with other people/departments?

    Or if my suggestions don't help, there's stacks of information on here http://www.businessballs.com/.

    But don't worry too much. If you can build a skill set, do so, but if you have to pretend to be someone else at work, you'll just end up stressed and unhappy.
  • jamesm96
    jamesm96 Registered Posts: 523
    Great replies here, liking this thread a lot!

    I'm also a big believer in little things too, like just smiling at people, speaking up a little louder than you would in normal conversation, making lots of eye-contact (that's a big one, actually), that sort of thing.

    And in your general day things like taking an interest in people, asking how they are and having a short chat with them about whatever comes up in conversation works wonders for earning people's respect / endearing yourself to them, especially if you then prove that you really did care about what they said by following it up at a later date (like, if they've said they've a parents evening that night, asking how it went the next day, that sort of thing).

    It's no herculean effort but it does make a surprising difference to people's opinions of you. If you're really playing the game then it's important to behave this way to your seniors too, though being careful not to be a suck-up.
  • Monsoon
    Monsoon FMAAT, AAT Licensed Accountant Posts: 4,071 ? ? ?
    Dale Carnegie: How to Make Friends and Influence People.

    It's an old book, but a great one. Worth a read.

    I'm an introvert, though you probably wouldn't think it to talk to me at work. I can't put on an act, but I have a different persona when I need it. It's like I draw on reserves of energy and outward confidence, and then switch off and re-charge on my own afterwards.

    What it sounds like you need to do, is work something of that into your interview technique. You are right, there is nothing wrong with being an introvert. But extroverts often don't 'get' us.

    Don't try and become more extroverted. That doesn't work. Just find ways of showing off the positives, and disguise what are perceived as the negatives (even though they aren't necessarily a negative).

    Part of it is learning to outwardly show confidence: posture, eye contact, strong voice, strong language, an 'I can do that' attitude that comes from inside of you, and that is backed up by your delivery. Smile, don't look nervous.

    Practice as much as you can, in a variety of situations. Step outside your comfort zone - not so much that you hate it or feel really awkward, but just a little, to push yourself out there. If you can do that at work and let these people see you doing it - all the better. Volunteer for things you might not otherwise do.

    Some positive mantras might help.

    You might also want to suggest management google "truth about introverts" and educate themselves ;):lol:

    http://www.evercurious.com/2011/06/21/the-truth-about-introverts/

    Myth #1 – Introverts don’t like to talk. This is not true. Introverts just don’t talk unless they have something to say. They hate small talk. Get an introvert talking about something they are interested in, and they won’t shut up for days.

    Myth #2 – Introverts are shy. Shyness has nothing to do with being an Introvert. Introverts are not necessarily afraid of people. What they need is a reason to interact. They don’t interact for the sake of interacting. If you want to talk to an Introvert, just start talking. Don’t worry about being polite.

    Myth #3 – Introverts are rude. Introverts often don’t see a reason for beating around the bush with social pleasantries. They want everyone to just be real and honest. Unfortunately, this is not acceptable in most settings, so Introverts can feel a lot of pressure to fit in, which they find exhausting.

    Myth #4 – Introverts don’t like people. On the contrary, Introverts intensely value the few friends they have. They can count their close friends on one hand. If you are lucky enough for an introvert to consider you a friend, you probably have a loyal ally for life. Once you have earned their respect as being a person of substance, you’re in.

    Myth #5 – Introverts don’t like to go out in public. Nonsense. Introverts just don’t like to go out in public FOR AS LONG. They also like to avoid the complications that are involved in public activities. They take in data and experiences very quickly, and as a result, don’t need to be there for long to “get it.” They’re ready to go home, recharge, and process it all. In fact, recharging is absolutely crucial for Introverts.

    Myth #6 – Introverts always want to be alone. Introverts are perfectly comfortable with their own thoughts. They think a lot. They daydream. They like to have problems to work on, puzzles to solve. But they can also get incredibly lonely if they don’t have anyone to share their discoveries with. They crave an authentic and sincere connection with ONE PERSON at a time.

    Myth #7 – Introverts are weird. Introverts are often individualists. They don’t follow the crowd. They’d prefer to be valued for their novel ways of living. They think for themselves and because of that, they often challenge the norm. They don’t make most decisions based on what is popular or trendy.

    Myth #8 – Introverts are aloof nerds. Introverts are people who primarily look inward, paying close attention to their thoughts and emotions. It’s not that they are incapable of paying attention to what is going on around them, it’s just that their inner world is much more stimulating and rewarding to them.

    Myth #9 – Introverts don’t know how to relax and have fun. Introverts typically relax at home or in nature, not in busy public places. Introverts are not thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies. If there is too much talking and noise going on, they shut down. Their brains are too sensitive to the neurotransmitter called Dopamine. Introverts and Extroverts have different dominant neuro-pathways. Just look it up.

    Myth #10 – Introverts can fix themselves and become Extroverts. A world without Introverts would be a world with few scientists, musicians, artists, poets, filmmakers, doctors, mathematicians, writers, and philosophers. That being said, there are still plenty of techniques an Extrovert can learn in order to interact with Introverts. (Yes, I reversed these two terms on purpose to show you how biased our society is.) Introverts cannot “fix themselves” and deserve respect for their natural temperament and contributions to the human race. In fact, one study (Silverman, 1986) showed that the percentage of Introverts increases with IQ.



    And....



    Introverts are hugely misunderstood.

    Extroverts are highly energized by people and wilt or fade when alone. They often seem bored by themselves; leave an extrovert alone for two minutes and they’ll be reaching for their cell phone. Introverts on the other hand, after being socially “on” for a few hours need time to recharge by being alone.

    Introverts are usually seen as shy, this is not true. Shyness means being anxious or frightened or disapprove of one’s self. This is rarely the case with introverts. Introverts are often seen as arrogant, this is usually because of our lack of small talk, which to extroverts means; I don’t like you. Introverts make up approximately 25% of the population. However, Introverts are a minority in the general population, but a majority in the gifted population. The reason for this is introverts are more intelligent, more reflective, more independent, more level-headed, more refined, and more sensitive than extroverts.

    Extroverts tend to think by talking, whereas introverts think before they talk. The original meanings of the words invented by Carl Jung in the late 20’s are;

    Extrovert – finds meaning outside themselves.
    Introvert – finds meaning within themselves.

    Extroverts are highly unlikely to understand introverts. All you have to do is look at the words used to describe introverts; guarded, loner, reserved, self-contained, private and narrow. These are all ungenerous words that suggest a narrow personality.

    For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping and as nourishing as eating.

    The worst part is I don’t think extroverts realize the torment that they put introverts through. Having to listen to their 98% content-free talk, we wonder if extroverts even listen to themselves. I can’t wait for the day when it won’t be impolite to say, “I’m an introvert. You are a wonderful person and I like you, but for now, please shush”

    So what to do with an introvert? First recognize that it’s not a choice, it’s not a lifestyle, and it’s an orientation. Second, when you see an introvert in deep thought, don’t ask them what’s wrong? Or, are you alright? Third don’t say anything else either. Fourth when they’re done with their deep thoughts ask them what they were thinking about.
  • jamesm96
    jamesm96 Registered Posts: 523
    Monsoon wrote: »
    Dale Carnegie: How to Make Friends and Influence People.

    It's an old book, but a great one. Worth a read.

    I'm an introvert, though you probably wouldn't think it to talk to me at work. I can't put on an act, but I have a different persona when I need it. It's like I draw on reserves of energy and outward confidence, and then switch off and re-charge on my own afterwards.

    What it sounds like you need to do, is work something of that into your interview technique. You are right, there is nothing wrong with being an introvert. But extroverts often don't 'get' us.

    Don't try and become more extroverted. That doesn't work. Just find ways of showing off the positives, and disguise what are perceived as the negatives (even though they aren't necessarily a negative).

    Part of it is learning to outwardly show confidence: posture, eye contact, strong voice, strong language, an 'I can do that' attitude that comes from inside of you, and that is backed up by your delivery. Smile, don't look nervous.

    Practice as much as you can, in a variety of situations. Step outside your comfort zone - not so much that you hate it or feel really awkward, but just a little, to push yourself out there. If you can do that at work and let these people see you doing it - all the better. Volunteer for things you might not otherwise do.

    Some positive mantras might help.

    You might also want to suggest management google "truth about introverts" and educate themselves ;):lol:

    http://www.evercurious.com/2011/06/21/the-truth-about-introverts/

    I couldn't agree more, and I'd second the 'How to win friends...' recommendation too. That's a great book.
  • PGM
    PGM Registered Posts: 1,954
    Monsoon wrote: »

    Myth #1 – Introverts don’t like to talk. This is not true. Introverts just don’t talk unless they have something to say. They hate small talk. Get an introvert talking about something they are interested in, and they won’t shut up for days.

    I'm definitely introverted, a lot of the information on the post is very true, its completely different from being shy.

    One of my extroverted friends always says the above about me, that I don't say much, but when I do its worth listening to :D
    Monsoon wrote: »
    Introverts are usually seen as shy, this is not true. Shyness means being anxious or frightened or disapprove of one’s self. This is rarely the case with introverts. Introverts are often seen as arrogant, this is usually because of our lack of small talk, which to extroverts means; I don’t like you. Introverts make up approximately 25% of the population. However, Introverts are a minority in the general population, but a majority in the gifted population. The reason for this is introverts are more intelligent, more reflective, more independent, more level-headed, more refined, and more sensitive than extroverts.

    And we are the smart ones! haha Great post Monsoon.
  • *Jo
    *Jo Registered Posts: 509
    Fantastic post Monsoon :)

    So much of that I can relate to apart from the talking bit, I do rattle on rather alot but much prefer the other quieter things in life. My daughters the same, she did drama at school and uses that to help her but sometimes can come over a bit too much due to her "act".

    My other half is much more introverted than me and worries about being perceived as shy. Think I will buy him that book as the quotes really do sum it all up. The people who try to change others need to get their own house in order first.

    Thank you Monsoon for such a detailed thoughtful post and to Bookworm for asking the question in the first place.
  • Paisley
    Paisley Registered Posts: 93 ? ? ?
    Interesting thread and great post Monsoon.
  • Bookworm55
    Bookworm55 Registered Posts: 479
    Thanks all, there's some really interesting points there. I'm glad people agree introverts don't hate people. Of course we don't hate people; some of my closest friends are people. ;)

    For further reading, NPR ran an interesting article/book review this week http://www.npr.org/2012/01/30/145930229/quiet-please-unleashing-the-power-of-introverts?sc=fb&cc=fp.
    I will give How to win friends an influence people a look too.

    It is worryingly true that I can perform my current role perfectly well without ever really having to talk to anyone- and when I do it's often more practical to email so they have the document/data in front of them. So I may need to find excuses to be more social at work. I've booked myself on an Assertiveness training day at work later this month, and requested some further communications-skills-based workshops in the near future.
  • *Jo
    *Jo Registered Posts: 509
    Bookworm55 wrote: »
    Thanks all, there's some really interesting points there. I'm glad people agree introverts don't hate people. Of course we don't hate people; some of my closest friends are people. ;)

    For further reading, NPR ran an interesting article/book review this week http://www.npr.org/2012/01/30/145930229/quiet-please-unleashing-the-power-of-introverts?sc=fb&cc=fp.
    I will give How to win friends an influence people a look too.

    It is worryingly true that I can perform my current role perfectly well without ever really having to talk to anyone- and when I do it's often more practical to email so they have the document/data in front of them. So I may need to find excuses to be more social at work. I've booked myself on an Assertiveness training day at work later this month, and requested some further communications-skills-based workshops in the near future.

    Thats good, its shows you are making the effort to follow up on the advice given. Good luck with the training day. If all else fails just pretend and act like you are interested in the general titel tattle :D
  • KaySarah
    KaySarah Registered Posts: 215 ? ? ?
    Monsoon wrote: »
    Dale Carnegie: How to Make Friends and Influence People.

    It's an old book, but a great one. Worth a read.

    I'm an introvert, though you probably wouldn't think it to talk to me at work. I can't put on an act, but I have a different persona when I need it. It's like I draw on reserves of energy and outward confidence, and then switch off and re-charge on my own afterwards.

    What it sounds like you need to do, is work something of that into your interview technique. You are right, there is nothing wrong with being an introvert. But extroverts often don't 'get' us.

    Don't try and become more extroverted. That doesn't work. Just find ways of showing off the positives, and disguise what are perceived as the negatives (even though they aren't necessarily a negative).

    etc ...

    Awesome Monsoon. I couldn't agree more! Well thought out and well written. For all the introverts out there, thank you for taking the time to put it all into words so we can stop being so misunderstood. This is ME to a T! People often assume I exude confidence, capability and poise but that's only on the outside.
    Introverts can be alone with themselves and truly like the company they keep in the empty moments without the constant quest for others to sustain and nourish them - these are far better qualities than the ever-bored, unsustained extrovert. Introvert's are loyal and hardworking.
    Alternative Reading Matter: HOW TO TALK TO ANYONE by LEIL LOWNDES
  • Rozzi Rainbow
    Rozzi Rainbow Registered Posts: 465
    Brilliant post Monsoon, thanks :)
  • Newbie
    Newbie Registered Posts: 229 ? ? ?
    Excellent post monsoon
  • LeeS2009
    LeeS2009 Registered Posts: 1,515
    Hi Bookworm, there is nothing wrong with having communications based workshops to try and help you develop what you feel are under developed skills, but the reason you didnt get the interview was not that you are an introvert, it was simply that you didnt prepare thoroughly enough for the interview.

    Introverts are by and large the most successful people on the planet and there is absolutely nothing that suggests being an introvert is a weakness of any kind. In fact your interviewers obviously don't know their sausage from their rolls because as has been stated, being an introvert has absolutely nothing to do with being less confident.

    The first rule in any interview is to work on your strengths and cover your butt from every single angle on any thing that can be percieved as a weakness. In fact, I would go as to say that an interview is 100% perception.

    This was an internal vacancy....but you have to treat every interview as if it is the holy grail of jobs. If you acknowledge that you are an introvert, then you will no doubt understand that this can be "perceived" as being shy etc......

    The fact is I would prefer someone who is a deep thinker to work for me than someone who is not. If you had stated this as a strength in your character you would have been displaying confidence in yourself and good communication. There is nothing wrong with you stating it in an interview regardless if they ask you what your strengths or weaknesses are.

    For example-

    " I believe one of my main strengths is my introverted behaviour, I am a deep thinker and I consider all of my options very carefully before making any important decisions. Some people can perceive this as a weakness, but as you can see I am very confident in myself and my abilities and i adapt perfectly well to situations around me. I have absolutely no problem with communicating with staff on any level when needed."

    That type of answer thrown into your interview could well have got you the job. It wouldnt make any difference what you do in your job, but if you cover all areas where a weakness can be perceived and challenge your interviewer with it while putting a positive spin on it, you will find there is not much they can pick you up on.

    Just my opinion,

    Hope this helps
  • Monsoon
    Monsoon FMAAT, AAT Licensed Accountant Posts: 4,071 ? ? ?
    LeeS2009 wrote: »
    " I believe one of my main strengths is my introverted behaviour, I am a deep thinker and I consider all of my options very carefully before making any important decisions. Some people can perceive this as a weakness, but as you can see I am very confident in myself and my abilities and i adapt perfectly well to situations around me. I have absolutely no problem with communicating with staff on any level when needed."

    That type of answer thrown into your interview could well have got you the job. It wouldnt make any difference what you do in your job, but if you cover all areas where a weakness can be perceived and challenge your interviewer with it while putting a positive spin on it, you will find there is not much they can pick you up on.

    I love this - that's just brilliant :)
  • Bookworm55
    Bookworm55 Registered Posts: 479
    LeeS2009 wrote: »
    Hi Bookworm, there is nothing wrong with having communications based workshops to try and help you develop what you feel are under developed skills, but the reason you didnt get the interview was not that you are an introvert, it was simply that you didnt prepare thoroughly enough for the interview.

    I'm not sure where you got the impression I was underprepared from, or what you meant by that. I didn't actually say I was introverted in the interview, it was in the interview feedback that it was said to me.

    Actually the interviewer emphasised what they perceived as a lack of assertiveness over anything else. The examples they gave though were more a question of business etiquette and management style than what I would have considered any real unassertive behaviour so it really didn't help me. The confidence thing came up a lot too. I don't consider myself unconfident, but I do know where limits of my experience are. Perhaps I should be arrogant with no sense of politeness or self-awareness at all instead?

    As mentioned above in a previous post, part of the problem in my current role is that it does not require any real communication or social skills, so they are not expressed at the workplace, which means that management cannot see me doing a role which requires them. How can you process invoices in an assertive way?

    Since my original post, I had asked the head of department if I could try spending some time (say one afternoon a week) in another team within accounts to get some exposure to more challenging roles and develop in small increments. This was flatly rejected on the basis that I am too valuable in my current team to be allowed to spend any time elsewhere. Not sure if there's anything I can do about that.
  • jamesm96
    jamesm96 Registered Posts: 523
    Blimey, can't believe this thread is two months old!

    Anyway, popped into Waterstones yesterday and found this on the shelf: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Quiet-power-introverts-world-talking/dp/0670916757/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1334699506&sr=8-1

    Didn't buy it as I've got a ton of books that I need to finish yet, but might well do so very soon, and it seems to be reasonably well reviewed. Thought you guys who've responded on this thread might find it interesting. Would like to hear from anyone who has / does read it.
  • Dean
    Dean Registered Posts: 646
    jamesm96 wrote: »

    ..popped into Waterstones yesterday

    You went outside? You extrovert you! :D

    Regards

    Dean
  • PGM
    PGM Registered Posts: 1,954
    Dean wrote: »
    You went outside? You extrovert you! :D

    Regards

    Dean

    Wild times.

    Still, compared to IT people we're pretty Flamboyant..
  • jamesm96
    jamesm96 Registered Posts: 523
    Dean wrote: »
    You went outside? You extrovert you! :D

    Regards

    Dean

    That made me genuinely chuckle at my desk... now my junior colleagues are convinced I'm not actually doing any work!

    Anyway it'd only be semi-extroverted... I came back into my office and went on to Amazon to buy it!
  • Dean
    Dean Registered Posts: 646
    Haha! :)
  • coojee
    coojee Registered Posts: 794
    Coming to this discussion late I'm afraid. I love this quote from Moonsoon “I’m an introvert. You are a wonderful person and I like you, but for now, please shush”

    Myself,my husband and my daughter are all introverts, my son is an extrovert - I very often have to tell him to SHUT UP. I'll have to remember this quote and start off by telling him I love him very much but please for my sanity, he needs to stop talking.

    I think most good accountants are introverts, it's a trait that's needed to enable you to think logically.
  • stevo5678
    stevo5678 Registered Posts: 325
    Brilliant I'm definitely an 'introvert' after reading this but I imagine that people can be balanced more between the two and it's not always black and white? Otherwise it's basically saying introverts tend to be intelligent and extroverts not?
  • Monsoon
    Monsoon FMAAT, AAT Licensed Accountant Posts: 4,071 ? ? ?
    stevo5678 wrote: »
    Brilliant I'm definitely an 'introvert' after reading this but I imagine that people can be balanced more between the two and it's not always black and white? Otherwise it's basically saying introverts tend to be intelligent and extroverts not?
    Definitely.

    I am an introvert, yet at times I do exhibit distinctly extrovert behaviour. I have to be in a certain mood though (coffee helps!). :lol:
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