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Beyond the Spreadsheet: People Skills Give You the Edge in Finance

Finance professionals have to keep up with the times.

Your career depends on your ability to expand your knowledge in a fast-moving industry. That’s why you seek opportunities to learn new skills on the job, through professional development or by pursuing advanced degrees.

But do you pay the same attention to your people skills?

Complex tasks like mergers and acquisitions and enterprise resource planning involve more than number-crunching. As work becomes more collaborative, employers increasingly value soft skills — and their hiring choices reflect that. But unlike learning new software or mastering the new tax code, it can be a challenge to strengthen your interpersonal skills or even get an honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses so you know what to work on.

We spoke with Aston Carter’s Kim Chedgy, an accounting and finance recruiter, to get an inside look at what soft skills are in demand and how to develop and showcase them. She offers three must-have skills for today’s finance professionals.

          Ask your team members and your supervisor for feedback.

1. Demonstrate Your Ability to Build Relationships

The days of the finance and accounting department being hidden away in a back room are long gone. To succeed, you have to be able to build strong professional relationships within the department, across the organization and with external stakeholders.

“With the complexity of large projects like mergers & acquisitions and ERP implementations, relationships are key,” says Chedgy. “How well you’re able to connect with people outside of your department and the organization can directly impact the big picture, like timeline and project goals.”

Chedgy notes that professionals who are adept at building positive relationships are also skilled at collaboration and teamwork.

“Accounting and finance departments need team players — people who can work well within the department and across the organization,” says Chedgy. “Hiring managers value employees who stay upbeat and help their teams stay positive.”

2. Emphasize Skills in Communicating and Influencing

Your job may start with numbers, but it ends with your ability to communicate what those numbers mean — to your team, to your supervisor and to your clients.

Whatever form it takes — an email to the marketing team to explain a compliance issue, a phone conversation to resolve a billing question or a presentation to a potential new customer — clear communication is key. That’s true no matter where you are in your career.

“Hiring managers look for strong communication skills at all levels,” says Chedgy, “from entry-level to senior management.”

3. Show That You’re Open to Change

In an industry that deals with constant change, it’s not surprising that employers look for people who are flexible and open-minded. “We’re always looking for people who can adapt to changing environments,” says Chedgy. She adds that being open-minded includes a willingness to learn new things in the field.

“You’ve got to embrace change and realize that there will always be new things for you to learn.”

How to Develop Your Soft Skills

When it comes to developing your soft skills, feedback is essential. “Don’t be afraid to ask your team members and your supervisor for feedback,” says Chedgy. “Just remember not to take it personally — it’s about your professional development.”

When you get performance feedback, whether it’s informal or part of an annual review, reflect on what you hear. Are there lessons learned that you can apply to future situations? Can you intentionally address areas for improvement?

Chedgy makes ongoing performance feedback a priority with the consultants she places.

“We touch base with contract employees and their managers within the first week and then monthly, with a final review at the end of the contract. It’s important to us that our people know what they’re doing well and where they can improve. That can lead to a permanent position or a positive recommendation for the next job.”

How to Highlight Your Soft Skills

Unlike your technical skills, which you can demonstrate with your educational background and professional credentials, your soft skills can be difficult to prove. When highlighting these skills on your resume, Chedgy recommends the “show, don’t tell” approach.

“Be specific about your experiences,” says Chedgy. “If you were part of an accounts payable team, include the size of the group to show how you operate within a group. If you helped with a client billing issue, highlight that as part of your conflict resolution skills.”

The job interview is another opportunity to showcase your skills. Because interviews can be stressful, make sure you prepare well beforehand.

“We help our contractors prepare for their interviews and let them know what skills the employer is looking for,” says Chedgy. “We remind them of the basics of good communication — eye contact, active listening, smiling — and of the importance of that first impression. A good interview is a professional conversation between engaged human beings.”

While finance starts with numbers, in the end, it’s a people business. 

Want to learn more about how we can help you take the next step in your finance career? Contact Aston Carter now.

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