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What major skills should teenagers have required when entering the world of business and accounting and what classes should they focus on to help them more?

Communication, both written and verbal, are extremely important and valuable skills that young folks should learn to build and master in preparation for a career in business and accounting. Topics like wealth, bankruptcy, fraud, taxes and investments can be complicated and sometimes invoke emotions in clients and suppliers. People entering accounting need to be able to communicate effectively about dollars, cents and regulations, while maneuvering around the emotions that the client may be feeling. It’s not enough to be able to quote rules or simply email a spreadsheet. Accountants must also be able to explain further, give examples and answer questions adequately. Today’s teenagers are very good at texting and writing short and sweet emails. Brevity is definitely a good trait. And so is picking up the telephone or having a face-to-face conversation, when getting the facts straight is essential or the message must be precisely understood. Live interactions can be the difference between a grave misunderstanding and closing a massive deal. Therefore, teenagers must ensure that their communication experiences are well-rounded to include written and verbal skills.

Also, it’s amazing how client service plays such a significant role all aspects of business. Clients will work with the individual or company with whom they feel most comfortable and who is the most reliable. If a CPA promises a product by the end of the month, and is able to meet (or exceed) that promise, that professional is more likely to hang on to the client and receive client referrals vs. the CPA who is constantly over promising and under delivering. When I interview young people, I like to hear about their experiences with customers and how they handled tough situations when the customer was not pleased. If the candidate does not have any exposure to customer service, I am less inclined to put that person in front of my clients.

The bottom line when it comes to skills is that the “essential” skills are more valuable than technical (e.g. accounting rules) skills. You can teach people both essential skills and technical requirements. However, it takes much more time and practice to build and master essential skills, such as communication, leadership, client service, teamwork, project management, management and innovation, than it does to learn the things we can all get from a book. My advice is that young people take the time to balance out their resume with a mix of experiences and classes that will enable them to work on essential skills. Middle school students should get involved in at least one activity, like a sport, band or theater. If accounting and business classes are offered in high school, take them. And also take a part-time job that will give you exposure to customers, a different level of responsibility and people that may be a little dissimilar from you. As you go through college, you should look for work and extra-curricular opportunities that offer leadership and an increasing level of technical exposure. Remember that you’re not going to get those opportunities if you don’t have anything to offer, such as solid communication skills. Variety of experiences and skills is what you’ll need to succeed in business and accounting. You can start to build that variety today.

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