Interviews with Accounting Professionals
by Sally Hu, Writing Consultant
(printable version here)
In today's increasingly competitive job market, accountants who write and communicate well have an advantage over those who only rely on their technical skills. In the accounting profession, writing to communicate important financial information to a diverse audience is an integral part of the business. Accountants who are highly sought after do not only gather and process information; they can effectively interpret it and provide decision-making advice as well. As a result, adequate communication and writing skills are necessary to pass the CPA exam, to get a job, and to be promoted to a higher rank of a business. (Lingenfelter)
To illustrate the crucial role that writing plays in the business world, we asked three professionals with different backgrounds about their experiences with writing in their chosen careers. They are:
- Kristopher T. Olexy, financial advisor
- Philip Hardin, CPA and CEO
- Joe Hoyle, CPA and professor
How often have you had to write during the extent of your career?
Kristopher Olexy: "On a daily basis. Being able to effectively communicate with clients is critical to overall success."
Philip Hardin: "I communicate in writing multiple times per day to someone such as a client, investor, or group of employees that deserve a thoughtful, carefully edited communication."
Joe Hoyle: "Between two textbooks, a teaching blog, and motivational emails about the CPA Exam, I probably average writing two to three hours per day, 365 days per year."
Who does your audience consist of?
Kristopher Olexy: "My audience consists primarily of families and business owners."
Philip Hardin: "As a staff accountant... my writing was much more internally directed to communicate our audit procedures, results, and any financial impacts. As I moved into the financial management role within a company... my communications became much more externally directed" to customers and management. "In my executive roles, I find that my writing skills are imperative to communicate complex business arrangements for acquisitions or business partnerships."
Joe Hoyle: "Accountants, teachers, [and] accounting students."
How do you communicate technical terms to people with little to no knowledge of accounting?
Kristopher Olexy: "I always try to get to know my clients as well as I possibly can; personally, professionally, etc. Through this process, I can gauge clients' knowledge on insurance and investments and gear how technical our discussion should be."
Philip Hardin: "First, always focus on the impact or the real message you want to convey. You do not have to describe the accounting process first before conveying something important. Second, if you do need to explain something in detail, give the audience the answer first and then explain. Do not force them through the detail to get to the punch line. You are not writing a mystery novel."
Joe Hoyle: "You try to give them a reason to pay attention -- why should they care? Then you break it down into component parts and try to figure out how to arrange those parts so that they follow a logical and sequential path... You write the same words and sentences over and over -- often dozens of times. You can take what seems like a simple sentence and just write it in an infinite number of ways."
What's the biggest difficulty/problem you have when writing in accounting?
Kristopher Olexy: "I think what I said in [the previous question] is a big challenge. I like to be thorough with my analysis and [about] why I recommend what I recommend. Oftentimes, I find clients glazing over. There is a balance in financial planning with being detail oriented, but still keeping the client engaged."
Philip Hardin: "Some accountants do not fully consider their audience and end up either giving too much detail or too little. Understand how much your audience knows about accounting or how little. Do they even care about the mechanics?"
Joe Hoyle: "I think every writer writes a sentence and says, "Well, that's clear." But you have to put yourself in the other person's head and then ask, "Is it clear to someone else? It's clear to me but, heck, I wrote it. Are those specific words going to be clear to everyone?"
What is/are the most important tip(s) you would give a person writing for accounting?
Kristopher Olexy: "Without a doubt, [focus on] education. The more you know, the more you can help clients, and they will see you as a true adviser and not a salesperson."
Philip Hardin: "First, do not write like you are texting. Business people expect to read concise, professionally written, grammatically correct writing. Casual language is inappropriate for the gravity of most of the information an accountant will convey. Second, respect the time of your reader. Always edit to ensure that you have used the most economical language possible."
Joe Hoyle: "Write two to three hours per day for your entire life. Eventually, you'll get pretty good at it, especially if you have the ability to pull back and judge whether it is clear or not."
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