Finance and accounting

People skills make accountants count

During your job search, excellent technical qualifications and a well presented CV may be enough to get you noticed by potential new employers, but won’t be enough to keep their attention for long if the rest of your skill set doesn’t measure up.
In an industry characterised by the need for strong technical skills, the development of the interpersonal side of things is often forgotten. If you’re aiming for your first job post qualification or rising through the managerial ranks, Michael Page Finance knows that it’s your soft skills that can set you apart from the crowd. 

Recruiters on the lookout

Each client or accountancy job type can demand a different set of skills. A range of different employers, from small businesses to FTSE-listed multinationals rely on us to recruit their finance professionals. 
With exposure to so many different requirements and recruitment processes, we know it’s never a case of one skill set fits all, but we’ve noticed a trend for the similar sorts of interpersonal skills that are in demand – regardless of level or organisation.  Some roles are more technically focused, but a lack of interpersonal skills or capacity to develop these will limit your ability to move on and progress within a finance structure.
Excellent technical skills and qualifications are a given in the competitive job market, but according to Peter Istead, MD for Michael Page and Page Personnel Finance in London, the key soft skills in demand are:
  • Communication skills – do you have the capacity to really listen to what’s being said and convey what you’re trying to get across?
  • Simplify technical terms – the ability to express technical concepts in a user-friendly way, especially to a non-finance audience.
  • Management skills – not only the ability or capacity to manage a team as a line manager, but also to manage relationships with individuals and teams outside the finance function.
  • Influencing skills – are you able to negotiate with people and build relationships through positive and open communication?
  • Problem solving – your ability to think laterally and find solutions which address a business issue.
As your CV is the first thing to get you noticed by a recruitment consultant or hiring manager, it is important to try and weave evidence of your non-technical achievements into the document, according to Peter.  The role you’ve played in commercial business areas and where you’ve interfaced with external customers, for example, are key to reference. 

Our clients speak

Soft skills are “the most important” to look out for when hiring, according to Lee Gibson, commercial & finance director at Serco.  “Technical skills are a given, they are mandatory and something you expect from a qualified accountant.  What differentiates a candidate are the softer skills.”
Lee rates the ability to “listen and learn”, and most crucially, “influence” as the most important soft skills a finance professional should possess.  The ability to influence the business is important, at any level.  When Lee interviews and hires, he only chooses candidates with strength or obvious potential in this area. 
Matt Ashley, group financial controller at National Express agrees that soft skills are very important for accountants, especially the higher the level at which you operate.  Matt classifies finance roles into four broad categories – data gathering, data analysis, decision support and decision making.  It is in the latter three categories that Matt finds it is particularly crucial for finance job seekers to display strong interpersonal skills.
The soft skills that Matt looks out for when hiring is the ability to persuade and influence, and the ability to explain challenging concepts in simple terms for a non-specialist audience.  “With potentially complex issues, like tax and financial derivatives it is important to be able to explain them as simply as possible,” said Matt.

The interview situation

An interview gives you the chance to really shine and show off more than the facts listed on your CV, but Peter Istead cautions job seekers to treat an interview with a recruiter in the same way as an interview with a hiring manager.  Clients engage Michael Page Finance to assess cultural and interpersonal fit, as well as technical capabilities, so it’s important to present the most capable and skilled version of yourself in all interview situations. This allows us to represent you properly and put you in front of the best and most appropriate finance opportunities. 
Typically, a questioning style known as ‘competency based interviewing’ is employed by recruiters and hiring managers to uncover your softer skills.  The interviewer will ask you to a describe real life situation in which you’ve overcome a particular challenge or issue, so be armed and ready with examples for interviews.
For more advice on cracking competency based interviews, check out our career advice.
For more information on how you can progress your finance career with us, please contact your local Michael Page Finance team.