Money Matters

How To Hire: Pro Back Office co-founders on finding top-notch freelance talent

Two Sage Canada colleagues look at financial data on a tablet

In addition to seeking out full-time jobs that satisfy top priorities like culture, benefits and values, today’s finance job seekers are finding self-employment appealing. They’re interested in more flexibility, an opportunity put their expertise to work and a chance to strike a better work/life balance.

“We come across quite a few people who aren’t interested in 40 hours a week,” says Mike Ford, co-founder of San Diego, California-based professional services firm Pro Back Office. Pro Back Office provides organizations with access to accounting, finance and operational talent on an as-needed basis.

And the model works, particularly for finance roles, according to Ford’s co-founder Jennifer Barnes. She says companies are increasingly interested in outsourcing their back-office functions.

“You no longer need a warm body sitting in accounting all day long,” Barnes says. “You can have a bookkeeper for only the hours needed to get the transactional accounting done, and a higher-level person to handle more complex things like cash flow forecasting, margin analysis and month-end close.”

For Pro Back Office, the key to finding (and keeping) clients is finding top hires. When looking for the best candidates, Barnes and Ford stress proactive communication, IQ and an innovative mindset.

Test No. 1: Proactivity

Communication skills are an essential part of any job, but are particularly important in an outsourced accounting business as employees need to communicate both with an internal team as well as an external client.

“Being a proactive communicator and someone that can relate to and understand others is crucial,” Barnes says.

When evaluating communication skills during an interview, Barnes focuses on five indicators:

  • Does the candidate respond to questions clearly and precisely?
  • Do they ask appropriate and probing questions?
  • Is their body language hesitant, reserved or dominating?
  • Are they good listeners?
  • How do they approach communication with their peers and managers?

Test No. 2: IQ

Barnes and Ford have found that IQ often indicates how well someone will be able to pick up new ideas and technology. They administer an IQ test to each new hire—a unique practice in the world of finance—to ensure the people they hire have the smarts they are looking for.

“We find that the lower the IQ of an incoming team member, the slower they are to pick up on new concepts or technology. Even something simple like accounts payable may take them longer than someone with a higher IQ,” Barnes says.

While new hires will ideally score over 110, Barnes and Ford take the whole picture—including an accounting exam, a behavioral assessment, and verbal and written tests—into account.

Test No. 3: Outside-of-the-box thinking

Employees must be proactive in embracing new ideas, Barnes and Ford say. During the interview process, they ask a series of questions in the form of a verbal test with the goal of understanding who the job applicant is and how they make decisions.

“If the questions take them a long time to answer, or they have a hard time answering them, they probably aren’t the right fit,” Barnes says.

It’s understandable if a candidate has trouble with one or two questions, she says, but if they struggle with answering most of the questions, they probably don’t have command of the topic at hand.

“In our business you either know it or you don’t,” she says. “Delayed answers or rambling usually indicate they do not understand the subject matter.”

One of Barnes’ favorite questions to ask is: When was the last time you did something new for the first time?

“If someone says they never do new things and like to stick to the same old routine, they aren’t a good fit for us because we need agile people who can handle multiple clients at once,” she explains. “If you want every day to be the same, consulting life is not for you!”

Other questions Barnes and Ford ask help them identify key behavioral characteristics, such as loyalty, kindness, teamwork and proactivity, as well as how well a candidate will fit into company culture.

“We aim to hire people who are kind, caring and empathetic,” Barnes says. At the same time, however, she stresses that strong technical skills are a must simply because of the industry they are in. “At the end of the day, we have to possess the best of both worlds or clients will not hire us.”