Saturday, April 25, 2009

Finance People Get Great Advice from Al Walsh

Job Tips for Finance People

Patty DeDominic asked me to address some thoughts on how Finance people can stage themselves for job success in this market, so here goes.

As background, I’ve got 30-years business experience in a wide range of roles. Finance & Accounting has been at that core of my experience, including Bank Teller, Loan Officer, Stockbroker, CPA, Department Head, Controller, CFO, and Treasurer.

I won’t bore you with a litany of the usual core expectations.

Every employer wants Finance people who are experts in their industry, know their IT systems like the back of their hand, etc. These are basic requisites.

In this market, if you don’t have these core points under your belt you’re going to be “swimming against the tide”.

Choose your employer prospects carefully to fit your skill-set.

If you try to shotgun the market, you’ll just put yourself through an exercise in frustration.

What I really want to focus on is other characteristics that will separate you from the crowd.

The real crux of my message is that you should be able to display an understanding of the prospective employer’s business, and how you as a Finance person can support & nurture that business.

Far too many people in our field are mere technicians who don’t grasp the full role that they should be playing. This is particularly true for Controllers and CFOs. There are those of us who richly deserve the dreaded label of “bean-counter”.

For instance: working capital management is a critical subject for most companies in these challenging times. You need to be up with the times, have a solid understanding of the financial markets, and be able to display comprehension of your prospective employer’s situation & needs and how you as Finance officer might fulfill those needs.

The regulatory environment is crazy, and getting crazier. You need to be on top of it, and have an understanding of how it impacts your potential employer; and how you might mitigate the impact.

Many of us know that employers often call upon their Finance managers to spread their wings over other functions, such as H/R and IT. The ability to display comprehension and expertise outside the Finance function will make you more desirable; and open the door to possible career expansion such as that which I’ve experienced.

Far too many people in our field are mere record-keepers, with insufficient comprehension of what the numbers mean and how they can help manage the company. You need to display the ability to partner, nurture, and support the non-financial leaders with timely, meaningful data and valuable guidance. You need to be able to grasp the strategic & operational plans, become a part of the process, and ensure that the financial resources are there to achieve the established goals. You need to be a nurturer who can help raise the financial awareness of other leaders.

I could go on with other examples, but the gist of my message is that you will stand apart from the crowd if you can display the talents of a true businessperson, as opposed to being a mere “technician”.

Whether you’re going for a CFO position or a more humble role, the ability to telegraph comprehension and support of the overall business will be critical to success.

Do your homework before you walk into the interview.

  • Learn all that you can about the prospective employer.
  • Listen carefully during the interview, probe, and take every opportunity to convey your ability to fulfill their total need.
  • Listen to the interviewer for items of key interest. Very likely, they’re shopping because the predecessor failed to fulfill some expectation. At some point in conversation they’re going to raise the point, and you don’t want to be caught “napping”.

Try to keep the conversation focused on the present & future, and what you can do for them. Questions about the past will inevitably arise, in which case you should try to raise examples of repeatable accomplishments that the prospective employer would value.

Smile – a lot. Try not to tense up (conveys a negative image), but also don’t be too relaxed (conveys sloth and inattentiveness). Look them in the eye – while they’re speaking, and while you’re speaking. Dress for success.
Listen, listen, listen.
I always go for an outward demeanor of “humble confidence”.

  • A little humility never hurts, but they don’t want a “Harvey Milk-Toast” either.
    Keep in mind that if you get an interview, they’re taking you seriously as a candidate.

Now it’s a matter of convincing them that you’re the BEST candidate.

Good Hunting, Al Walsh, CEO Walsh Enterprises, Business Advisors Huntington Beach, Ca

PS – I offer free articles on Business and Economics. I author some, and borrow others that are of value. Feel free to peruse them on my website

I also have a Resource page on my website where I’ve created links to a wide variety of useful information sources that you might not be aware of. Enjoy.

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