Feb

How to search for top talent in finance

by Ryan Morgan
Senior Associate Recruiter at Charles Aris Inc.

Finance professionals are a dime a dozen. Talented individuals in the field of finance are strewn across the world and across all industries. So finding finance leaders should be easy, and this is what most organizations think. However, that thinking is off base.

Because there are so many finance professionals, finding the best of the best becomes that much more critical – and, therefore, that much more difficult. The function of finance goes far beyond handling “the numbers” of a company; it includes the ability to balance both the short-term and long-term financial goals of an organization with how each functional area of a company affects the organization’s overall ability to reach those goals.

All finance leaders worth their salt have a core set of skills. They have the ability to read financial statements; they can analyze numbers; and they know how to drive value to the bottom line.

But to find the finance leaders who can go beyond the numbers and drive true enterprise value, it is necessary for organizations to define the individual qualities and functional areas which matter most to them. What a company values in its finance leaders depends on its size, industry, ownership structure and strategic goals. Regardless of how those factors play out in any particular organization, there are four traits which should be pursued in any search for an outstanding finance leader:

  1. Integrity
  2. Communication
  3. Vision
  4. Confidence

Now that we have identified the key elements of an outstanding finance leader, we must figure out how to identify these traits in a potential candidate.

Integrity

This is a given for any leader, but for a finance professional it is imperative. All organizations know this, but it is a hard quality to define when searching in the marketplace. You can begin to reveal the layers of a person’s integrity – for example, how a potential leader might handle boom-or-bust situations – through in-depth, behavioral and situation-based questioning revolving around proactivity / reactivity; eagerness to deliver news; and scenario analysis.

Communication

Strong communication isn’t always a given for a finance leader. There are many talented finance professionals who simply miss the mark when it comes to effectively communicating across various levels of an organization. A top-flight finance leader must be as comfortable communicating in the boardroom as she is on the shop-room floor. So how does one best assess an individual’s ability to communicate to all, from executives to the rank and file? Through in-depth and comprehensive reference checks with superiors, peers and subordinates.

Vision

A leader without vision is like a ship without a captain. Vision doesn’t just come from a company’s president or chief executive officer. A strong finance leader must also be able to understand, influence and communicate an organization’s vision – and to see the forest for the trees. An outstanding finance professional must be able to see the turns in the road well before the company gets there, and must be able to figure out how to keep the business moving forward. How do we figure out if a finance leader has vision? By asking detailed, specific questions focused on the core competencies which are most important to a particular organization. Digging deep into critical areas helps identify how a potential leader views strategic objectives and how they might evaluate specific challenges.

Confidence

A good leader is a confident leader and a confident leader has the potential to become a great leader. Confidence in making key financial decisions is imperative. One significant sign of a good leader is the ability to make a decision with confidence and stick to it even if the rest of the team is unsure. Thorough reference checks can reveal much about a candidate’s confidence in past decisions and actions – and case studies or financial presentations can bring to light the quality of a finance leader’s ability to analyze a situation and make a sound judgment call.