4 skills and experiences that can set finance professionals apart

13 June 2022

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​Finance departments aren’t always looking for someone who simply ticks all the usual boxes. When hiring managers need talent with the potential to lead the organisation down an uncharted path, offer a unique perspective, or provide an unusual skillset, they might need to think beyond the traditional résumé or CV and identify skills and experiences that can differentiate new talent.

Glenn Wisegarver, CPA, CGMA, the CFO at Bluetooth SIG, based in Sammamish, Washington, argued that to identify top talent, hiring managers might need to take off their blinders and consider skills and experiences over titles.

“We tend to see people as they currently are, rather than what they can be,” Wisegarver said. “If you're a manager, what that means is you're shutting off fabulous talent that may actually be able to do tremendous things for your organisation.”

Hiring managers hoping to hire beyond the traditional background should be on the lookout for these four skills and experiences to land uncommon talent.

Ability to think in pictures: While it’s not difficult to find someone who can manoeuvre data, finding people who can actually transform that data into concise, understandable, and meaningful insights is becoming increasingly difficult, Wisegarver said.

Finance professionals who can think in pictures and see stories within data can be valuable to organisations because they can help spot trends and make data-driven decisions. They can also help effectively translate those findings for other departments and clients, which can improve business partnering.

“There is a growing appetite for individuals who can really connect with lay people and the wider operation to make better business decisions,” said Fiona Wilson, managing director and headhunter at FJWilson Talent Services, based in London.

If you’re looking for someone with this skillset, consider candidates with a background in user-interface or graphic design, or someone who can demonstrate an ability to translate data into graphical forms and concisely explain what the numbers mean for the business.

Quick learners who bring a blend of technical and soft skills: As finance departments become leaner and organisations continue to ramp up their digital transformations, there will be an increased demand for finance professionals with both technical and soft skills, including emotional intelligence, business partnering, communication, and negotiation, according to Wilson.

“I think there is a growing demand for that technical ability alongside that service orientation, connection with stakeholders, and ability to think beyond the function in a way that transcends the operation,” Wilson said.

In order to determine a candidate’s disposition for those softer skills, Wilson recommended incorporating a psychometric test into the interview process, as well as keeping an eye out for any experiences that might indicate a proficiency for communication, such as public speaking or debate experience.

And in order to gauge a candidate’s technical abilities and determine how quickly they can pick things up, Wisegarver recommended providing a test or homework during the interview process. For example, he sometimes gives an Excel test that's graduated in difficulty so he can truly see what a job candidate knows, and not just what they listed on their résumé or CV. And for homework, he might provide real data, tell them he needs to understand x, y, and z, and then give them a few days to gather some analytic results.

“I'm not afraid of giving analytic homework that allows me to see how they think and actually approach the problems and what they can do,” he said.

Healthy appetite for risk: Risk-taking is not a desirable trait for every role within the finance function, but innovation and digital transformation cannot happen without some level of risk.

If your organisation could use someone with a higher risk tolerance, Wisegarver recommended looking for people coming out of startups, who have experience wearing a lot of different hats, rolling up their sleeves, and working with consistently high levels of risk.

He cautioned that if you're with a larger organisation and you want to bring in someone from the startup world, you need to actually give them the freedom to take advantage of those skills, because unless you're willing to back them up and give them that freedom, they're going to quickly become frustrated and leave.

Goal-oriented problem-solvers: Organisations might look beyond the traditional background when they need fresh perspectives to solve novel problems. According to Wisegarver, two backgrounds that tend to produce goal-oriented problem-solvers are the military and management consulting.

“People tend to think of the military as regimented and hierarchical, and there is a structure so there's clarity, but outside of that, a lot of times teams are given an objective and mission and then they have to figure it out,” he said. “They have to be able to adapt on the fly.”

He added that finance professionals with a management consulting background also tend to be great at problem-solving because consultants are often handed problems that are somewhat ambiguous and not clearly defined.

“You have to be able to define the problem, and then you have to come up with a solution that the client probably has not thought of or can't think of,” he said.

Source: fm-magazine.com