Top Soft Skills Needed in Business Valuation

Want to succeed in business valuation? You’ll need these five skills.

One of the most frequently asked questions I receive from younger staff members is what skills they should focus on improving to be successful in the industry. The list is extensive, but I’ve tried to identify five key soft skills that helped me advance my career. They include, in no particular order:

  • Organization
  • Communication
  • Professional Skepticism
  • Intellectual Curiosity
  • Entrepreneurial Spirit

Organization

As simple as it is, organization is one of the key skills I work on developing with my team.  Organization and time management are critical in any business setting, however in the accounting profession our engagements are by nature document-intensive and subject to deadlines. Developing strong organizational habits from day one of your career will be beneficial down the road.  Balancing a wide array of projects is a requirement in this industry and becomes much more manageable when you’re organized and aware of scheduling demands.

Communication

The accounting profession is built around communication: interviewing clients, networking with referral sources, exchanging information with coworkers, writing reports, testifying, etc. Communication also comes in many different forms; written (both formal and informal), verbal, nonverbal.  For many of us, our nature is to work with numbers and spend our time diving deep into spreadsheets. It is important that we spend time working on our speaking and writing skills, just as we do our technical skills.

Our firm often holds training sessions on understanding different communication styles and how to work with them. This can open the door to progress. Generational differences can also present a communication challenge. My older coworkers prefer face-to-face meetings, while younger workers would rather email or text. Acknowledging those differences and playing to everyone’s respective preferences is an easy way to get ahead.

Professional Skepticism

Approaching engagements with professional skepticism is a critical skill for any accounting professional; there’s a reason it’s discussed so frequently in standards. However, it’s one of the tenets of the profession that we must all repeatedly remind ourselves to adhere to. In my work in the valuation industry, this generally means questioning information provided by management or other sources. It’s critical that I understand management perspective, along with any motives and/or incentives they may have to influence my valuation for their personal benefit. Every accountant faces the same challenge in different segments of the industry. It’s critical, especially for young professionals, to make skepticism a part of their everyday habits and procedures. It’s easy to become too comfortable with a client or complacent and forget about skepticism, so take measures to avoid this.

Intellectual Curiosity

The foundation of my career is my intellectual curiosity about business valuation. That curiosity and desire to understand the how and why of my work helped me to develop technical skills, and allowed me to advance at my firm relatively quickly. That foundation underlies all the work I do. I maintain that curiosity, and a desire to learn new things and new techniques. Fortunately, business valuation and forensic accounting represent a field with plenty to learn, if you’re willing to pursue it. Without work that sparks my curiosity and the ability to continue learning, I’d likely lose interest. Finding a line of work that keeps that intellectual curiosity going is key to enjoying your work and staying engaged in what you do.

Entrepreneurial Spirit

Having an entrepreneurial spirit is critical in the valuation profession. Unlike the audit and tax world, recurring clients are typically rare. Many valuation professionals work on one-time engagements, which provide little or no opportunity for future engagements.  This poses a challenge and requires professionals to develop a skillset that allows them to continually generate business. Building a vast network and finding creative avenues to develop leads and referrals are very important. This is difficult for just about everyone, so getting in as much practice as possible is best.

In a technical field such as business valuation and the accounting profession in general, it’s easy to focus our energy on technical research and training. While that training certainly has great value, soft skills are often equally or more important, and can help distinguish those who pursue them.

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Shaun Maloney, CPA/ABV/CEIV/CFF/CGMA, CFA

Senior Manager, EisnerAmper LLP

Shaun is a Senior Manager of EisnerAmper LLP’s Financial Advisory Services Group. He specializes in valuing businesses, complex securities, and intangible assets. He is a member of the AICPA’s Accredited in Business Valuation Credential Committee and currently serves as Chair of the New Jersey Society of Certified Public Accountants’ (NJSCPA) Forensic and Valuation Services Interest Group.