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Key skills candidates need to be successful within Finance & Accountancy

by Liam Cox | 7 August 2019

Are you interested in finding out what skills are in demand across the Finance & Accountancy sector? Senior Consultant Liam Cox spoke to one of his clients who told him what skills finance candidates should be concentrating on, and offered his insight into what hiring managers might be looking for in the future.

It can be hard to build a successful career within any sector, not least a sector that is becoming increasingly caudate-led. As a result, candidates looking to secure a job within Finance & Accountancy need to set themselves apart. A good way of doing this is by ensuring they develop and showcase the key skills many hiring managers look for across the sector.

Finance professionals that continually build on their skills and react to the market are always the most sought after, and generally do very well throughout their career. But what skills doe hiring managers within the sector look for?

Senior Consultant Liam Cox spoke to one of his key clients to find out the skills he is looking for, how candidates can showcase their experience during the application process and also what skills he thinks will become increasingly important in the future.

What are the key skills you usually look for in candidates joining your team?

There are a number of things we would normally look for, especially in junior candidates joining our team. One of which is confidence and how they come across. This is becoming increasingly important because of the direction that the sector is taking. The Finance & Accountancy sector is moving towards more of a “business partnering”, so we look for candidates that have a higher commercial acumen that we did previously. Candidates that have excellent communication skills, and that are able to relay financial data to stakeholders at varying levels is also highly important.

We also want to try and test their team fit; how they will operate in a close knit environment and if they’re willing to help others. This is especially important to us as we have a small team and everyone we employ needs to get stuck in and help where possible. We tend to do this by asking scenario questions throughout the interview process.

Experience is also a bonus. It isn’t always essential depending on the role but we can teach them what they need if they demonstrate they’re flexible and willing to learn from us.

How have the skills of Finance & Accountancy candidates developed in recent years?

The main difference tends to be that candidates nowadays lack “qualification skills”. We tend to find that candidates have a broader, more varied skillset rather than specific knowledge that you would likely gain through qualifications. This can swing both ways, it can be a bonus for a role that is likely going to have a lot of variety as they will have generally already had some good exposure. However, the higher up the ladder you go can have a detrimental impact as senior candidates generally need to be qualified and have some specific, niche training and experience.

Having said that, I do think that the personality of some new accountants has definitely developed over the years, which is great to see. I think there is a much greater focus on soft skills now than there was when I first started my career, which will stand people in good stead moving forward.

What skills is your team/the industry lacking the most?

I don’t think my team is lacking a huge amount of skills, as I tend to ensure I hire junior candidates that I can develop and ensure they learn the skills we need them to have. We assess their capabilities of picking things up quickly and how open they are to learning from the interview stage and generally try and hire candidates on that basis.

In terms of the sector as a whole, the biggest shortfall is the lack of qualified accountants on the market. My peers across the industry often talk to me about the struggle they have finding qualified candidates that are the full package, and have the right mix of technical ability and soft skills that they need. 

When looking at a CV to shortlist a candidate, what are the main things you look for?

I generally look at a CV and score each section out of four in-line with the person specification and job description. This gives me a really good understanding of if the person is right for us, and usually helps me come up with a strong shortlist of suitable candidates.

In terms of specifics, experience is the main thing I tend to look for, but the level of experience varies depending on the role. I then look for someone that I feel has the right personality and will be the right cultural fit for our business. To decide this I usually look to see if they have added any extra-curricular activities to their CV as this can give you a different perspective and can make one candidate stand out over another.

I also appreciate that some younger candidates may not have achieved as much at work, so it can be nice to see candidates mention why they are looking to move on and what they are looking for in a new role. Generally it tends to be for progression, but it’s good to see.

Are you looking for some support on writing your CV? Check out our CV guide and downloadable CV template here.

What would you ask a candidate at interview to find out if they have the relevant skills/experience for your business?

We would try to see if they’d done any research on both us as an organisation and the sector before the interview. With the financial pressures within the Public Sector at the moment, we need to know that a candidate is sure this is the right move for them and that they show a willingness to join us. Also, if we’re going to be investing in their long-term future, we need to know they’ve made an effort to show us they want the role.

The kind of questions we would ask to find this out are:

  • What do you know about us as an organisation?
  • What kind of pressures do you feel the sector is facing at the minute?
  • Who would our clients or customers be apart from the obvious?

We would also ask specific personality and scenario questions related to the skillset of the role. As I’ve said, team fit is a big part of what we try to operate so we would definitely be asking about how they would see themselves working in a team environment when the pressure is on.

Still not feeling prepared for your next interview? Why not head over to our Candidate Resources page for interview advice and common interview questions to prepare.

What do you think the future holds in terms of skillsets and candidates joining the market?

I think we will continue to see a drop in the number fully qualified candidates on the market, which is why we are trying to put more emphasis on training people who show an interest in becoming qualified. The training and programmes we provide are really beneficial for all parties. Hiring finance professionals in this way also means that we get qualified accountants that know how we work.

Candidates are also going to want to work for businesses that will invest in their future, something that has become synonymous with the sector. So although I think the number of qualified candidates may drop, I think the number of candidates that will want to pursue a career in the sector will continue to increase. Employers will therefore need to be able to show candidates what they can do to invest in their future in order to continue attracting the best talent on the market.

Do you think you have the skills required to pursue a job opportunity within Finance & Accountancy? If so we would love to hear from you. Get in touch with our team today, or check out our latest live vacancies here.

Alternately, you can find more advice, blogs and resources specifically written for Finance & Accountancy professionals on the insights section of our website.