Modern finance has evolved from departments with confined objectives, to more collaborative, team environments that work to implement cross-company goals. And with this shift comes a new set of must-have skills.
Finding individuals to fill those roles, however, has proved a major challenge. Accounting and finance staff ranked sixth out of the top ten most difficult jobs to hire for in 2016, according to ManpowerGroup’s Talent Shortage Survey. And when finance departments are unable to find well-rounded candidates, low employee performance, increased personnel costs and poor financial direction are just a few damaging consequences.
According to back office veteran Heidi Pozzo, finance leaders should look for candidates who not only have foundational finance skills, but are also able to continually learn and grow as their roles change. Pozzo, a business advisor and former CFO of a Washington state-based packaging firm, regularly advises organizations on talent acquisition. Her advice focuses on finding candidates with three key factors: data proficiency, strategic thinking and growth potential.
Wanted: Technical expertise and analysis
In large organizations, each finance role—accounting, tax, treasury, among others—has an associated technical skill set. Pozzo says finance candidates today tend to be technically well-versed. In addition to looking for software skills, therefore, Pozzo advises companies to also look for an ability to extract insights from the data that software produces.
“There is much more comfort with technology, easily learning new systems, and manipulating data,” she says of the candidate pool. “The downside is that being able to look at the results and determine whether or not there are errors does not always happen.”
Pozzo recommends asking a series of questions to determine whether a candidate can bridge the gap between technical knowledge and analysis. For example, ask a tactical question about obtaining information from financial software, and then ask candidates how they would use that information to make decisions.
Wanted: Strategic mindset
In addition to role-specific skills, Pozzo looks for candidates who have a good understanding of the business. They’re able to look for opportunities to allocate resources high return or high growth areas, rather than simply finding ways to cut costs.
“Strategic thinkers look for key investments that can propel the business forward,” Pozzo explains. “In large enterprises [$800 million-plus in annual revenue], the role of finance is becoming increasingly strategic.”
Finance departments in high-performing organizations spend much of their time strategically allocating resources, such as people or capital, and evaluating product or service offerings to maximize margins.
When hiring for this skill, Pozzo recommends looking broadly at how a candidate thinks. During the interview process, assess how the candidate talks through business cycles, seasonality and the company’s market position. Then, see how they would invest resources to grow the business.
Wanted: Potential for growth
When hiring any new candidate, finance organizations should look for a good fit technically, but also think beyond meeting the immediate need. Rather than hiring someone to perfectly match the skills needed for the position, hire someone who has the opportunity to excel — and properly onboard and train them.
“Attending meetings where strategic topics are discussed and the decision making process is in play is a great training ground,” Pozzo says.
Finance leaders must also make strategic investments in mentoring and professional development programs to help all employees advance. Smart leaders who hire today for the skills they’ll likely need in the future support the company’s long-term success.