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FP&A: 6 Tips for Identifying the Right Talent

  • By Nilly Essaides
  • Published: 6/20/2016

This article originally appeared on gtnews.

CFOs today are paying a lot more attention to the skills and competencies of their finance hires. Yet it’s still very hard to find the right people for the job, due to four basic reasons.

  • The growing unpredictability of the business environment. The business landscape is changing faster and is being disrupted by emerging technologies. Often it’s hard to tell what’s likely to come next. The traditional “siloed” finance function cannot provide that kind of insight and foresight. These new strategic challenges require a new type of finance executive.
  • The expanding role of the profession and the growing need for soft skills. More and more FP&A executives are working in close partnership with business leadership and the C-suite. They need to have the right communication competencies; they can’t just “talk numbers.” They need to tell stories, influence decisions and have the interpersonal skills required to build strong relationships with groups outside of finance.
  • The advent of big data. As more diverse data becomes available in real time, FP&A professionals must have the skillset to interact with IT or data scientists and understand the underlying architecture of how data is stored and staged, so they can run it through predictive models and come up with advice to help leaders make good business decisions.
  • The evolution of new technologies. Finally, while Excel will always have a place in financial planning and analysis, there’s a new crop of dedicated FP&A applications—many of them in the cloud—that automate low-value functions, create a direct pipeline to the business and offer the analytics capabilities FP&A needs. Today’s FP&A talent needs to be familiar and comfortable with more advanced technologies.

So how can CFOs and senior financial planning and analysis (FP&A) executives make sure they hire talent to match these new requirements, and thus better align the FP&A team with the organization’s strategic objectives?

1. Make sure candidates demonstrate good Excel skills and the ability to analyze and build models. While new technologies abound, no one expects Excel to go away and many organizations still rely primarily on Excel to do FP&A work. Excellent skills remain a must. Managers can test that by giving candidates a data set, and ask them to develop a model to help solve a business problem.
2. Ask them to demonstrate technological savviness.
Beyond Excel, new hires should demonstrate they are comfortable—or even already adept—at using more advanced planning and analytics tools. There may be a learning curve, but examples of past facility in acquiring new technology skills can help.  

3. Seek inquisitive minds. It’s important to find intellectually curious candidates. The evolving role of FP&A is that of being the “questioner” of the status quo. Executives will need to be able to ask the next question, look beyond the obvious and be excited about learning new things. That’s a lot more difficult to test. But one way to gauge that tendency is by listening carefully. Is the candidate asking a lot of questions or only answering ones. Do they inquire about the environment and about the role and projects they’ll be involved in?

4. Look for motivation and persistency. Part of FP&A’s job is to effect change in the business and impact the direction of the organization. Today’s idea may not go over very well, but it may be a good solution in a month or six months. When looking for candidates, look for ones who will be persistent at pushing for new ways of doing things. Ask them about their past experiences finding solutions and advocating for change.

5. Search for those soft skills. FP&A is the voice of the CFO. It should also strive to become a trusted advisor to the business. When looking for new hires, it’s important to find candidates who have good interpersonal skills, communicate clearly and not in finance jargon. They need to be able to tell stories about numbers. One way to gauge that skill to ask candidates to create an engaging presentation based on a set of data. New hires also need to be diplomatic and have the ability to influence. Listen to the way they tell the story of their own past experiences and how they accomplished past projects.

6. Find candidates with a diverse background. Because FP&A is no longer focused on looking backwards or merely reporting numbers, hiring managers are advised to seek candidates who have had experience working at other departments and environments. Some examples include audit, marketing, business finance and operations. That same diversity of background applies to applicants’ academic background. While foundational finance skills are important, increasingly, successful FP&A hires have liberal arts education.

Finally, there are two more success factors that can help companies get the right talent for the job.

First, surveys by The Hackett Group found that companies that were better at talent management had CFOs who exhibited two times higher engagement in the process, and CEOs who were four times higher in their level of involvement. So getting senior management involved in the hiring process and the staff development process can help pick the right candidate for the role.
Additionally, no one person can have the full range of skills to become an instantly successful FP&A executive. It’s therefore important to provide new hires with the right professional development opportunities. In many cases, that’s a combination of mentoring, internal training and rotational programs and external engagement with professional associations, or even formal training like AFP’s Certified Corporate FP&A Professional designation.
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