That was, more or less, the headline from a Wall Street Journal article. The article explained that the role of most CFOs was becoming more big picture and strategic and less number oriented. Thus CFOs sought out these non-traditional type of people for their finance organizations. The fact that colleges teach you basic accounting but not leadership or decision making was really starting to hamper some accountants from getting hired. The other single skill noted as often missing was the ability to communicate and present findings to your peers or bosses.

As I have written before, business and even accounting is really Not About the Numbers. Being able to generate the raw data is only a very small part of the job. The key is being able to summarize and clearly present this information to your audience. This means that business and life is about People and figuring out how to communicate with them. Often we can learn this with experience but there are other ways.

As an old Accountant myself, I have some suggestions on how young people can learn some of these more advanced CFO type skills while they are just starting out or at least early in their work career.

The best places to learn more strategy, decision making and presentation skills early are the following:

One is to go into public accounting. It can be a local, regional or one of the national firms. Here you learn to sell yourself as you travel to meet different clients. You can also move into a management role quickly by being in charge of a client engagement. You do not have to stay forever although obtaining your CPA certificate, which requires a couple years practice in most states, is a good idea. So two to four years is great. And you can leave for a Manager or Director job in a private or public firm.

Second is to join a smaller, private firm or, harder yet, to setup your own private business. In my first job outside of public accounting with Donn Corporation, within a few years I had done the entire financial gauntlet of duties-treasury, accounting, tax-and I was working on acquisitions and part of the firm’s overall strategy group. This may be a bit fast and unusual but in smaller, private firms you have a much better chance of getting involved in a very wide range of activities. And you can make yourself more valuable there or to the next firm you join.

The last place you will learn this diverse skill set is to join a large, public company. You will start out as a very detail, number crunching analyst and usually move up or around slowly. Often those who start in the Corporate Accounting group stay there, with some moves up over time. Those who start in Treasury the same thing. It is often unusual or even difficult in some large companies to move between the various financial groups. The exception are firms like General Electric that have a two year rotating financial management for some high potential people. Then you can learn a lot and get great exposure within the large firm.

So remember that Accounting and Business are really not about the numbers so learn the other people-oriented skills that can help you move up rapidly in your career!

Note: my book The Business Zoo is finally about to be launched this month on Amazon and Kindle. I will let you know!