What employers really want from finance professionals

Five key skills and attributes that finance employers are looking for

The role of the finance function within many organisations is evolving in subtle but important ways. Candidates must prove to employers that they possess an array of qualities and expertise.

As finance recruitment experts, we work with many different clients seeking to fill many different roles. Here are some of the key skills and attributes that employers ask us to find in candidates.

Up-to-date credentials

Every role – from financial accountant to finance director – has different requirements and although you do need to have the right qualifications, a lot depends on the structure of the business and the market in which it operates. There are some things that all organisations require and at the top of that list is up-to-date knowledge.

When it comes to the latest regulations you really need to bring your ‘A' game. Whether it's Financial Reporting Standards (FRS) 102, Statement of Recommended Practice (SORP) or any new development relevant to a specific industry, you need to make sure you fully understand the regulatory regime and can demonstrate that knowledge effectively. In addition, it never hurts to make sure you stay abreast of the latest systems skills in a business where technology is a defining factor in performance.

Positivity and teamwork

Employers seeking new people for their finance teams frequently ask us about a candidate's ability to work as a business partner. There was a time when the perception of the finance function was quite negative. Finance professionals were the bean counters who relished saying ‘no' to new ideas. That perception was never entirely true, but now the finance team has to go beyond simply countering that idea. Finance has to be seen as a positive force for growth within an organisation. It has to work with the creative in a business and take a key role in individual projects.

This means developing softer skills, interpersonal skills and an understanding of the goals other teams have. It may help to have had exposure to other parts of a business, which can happen in SMEs where the head of finance might also oversee another department. The most important thing is to be fluid and stay open to how other people contribute to the execution of strategy.

Ability to explain finance in non-financial language

The soft skills that are required for business partnering are all about communication and interacting with people outside the finance team. At the heart of this is the ability – now a standard requirement – to express what finance does in layman's terms. Often a finance professional will be working unsupervised and to tight deadlines, including month or year-end reporting, so the ability to motivate a team and show leadership is incredibly important.

Our State of Skills research found that strong communication skills are more important than 

Motivating both finance and non-finance people relies on expressing the information that lies in the numbers in practical, real-world terms. You have to do more than make the numbers add up, you have to bring them to life. The numbers always tell a story and your training and skills allow you to see it when others do not. Find that story and tell it.

Commitment to the cause

The clients that come to us have not only a keen understanding of what their businesses need from finance professionals, but also a very realistic view of recruitment and career development.

They do not expect employees to be with them forever. What they do expect is for people to commit to their role in driving the business forward and to use that experience as an opportunity for learning, development and personal growth.

Willingness to adapt, learn and grow

More often than not, clients are looking for self-motivated people who will build on their skillset. This helps the individual to progress, but also benefits the company as that person moves up the ladder within the finance team. Skill in business partnering, which has brought finance out of the shadows, and technical qualifications are now taken for granted.

Finance is now right in the mix, impacting the business in fundamental ways and increasingly having an impact on the strategic direction a company takes. Finance is vital to the strength and stability of a business and it is, therefore, essential to have people with the ambition and drive to push themselves – and the company – to the next level.

How to make your skills stand out:

  • Highlight your achievements and show how they made a real impact on the business.
  • Don't just write a job description on your CV, bring your career to life with demonstrable evidence. Remember that the first person who reads it might not be a finance professional.
  • Show how you have interacted and collaborated with other teams to add value to an organisation.
  • You only have one CV and you should not change it for each job application. But you should understand what an employer does and highlight the points on your CV that are relevant to that business.