FP&A professionals should never think of themselves as settled, but rather collecting multiple experiences and skills to stay atop changing tides. The new FP&A Guide to Career Pathing helps finance professionals identify the right time to make a career move.
GROWING YOUR SKILLSET
Early in a career, positional changes can broaden your experience to learn quickly, discover your strengths and talents, and meet different people, who not only can teach you valuable skills, but possibly open future doors down the road. Rotational programs can be a great benefit to employees and employers if they can retain program participants. For the individual, think about setting a “term limit” for positions at the start of a new role. How long does it take to become an expert in that subject? What level of mastery do you want in that material? For employers, how can you incent the participants to remain with your company after investing so the time and effort to cross-train them?
To move around to new roles with intentionality, consider what types of roles may grow your skillset. Identify and gravitate towards roles that are critical to company success in a changing environment. For example:
- Learn the business: Get close to operations to learn how money is made and products and services are fulfilled, and give tangible experience. Join operations or operations finance.
- Provide business partnership/support: Help a business to make decisions and work through the difficult tradeoffs that must be made when setting a plan for the year.
- Manage a team: Having direct reports is a critical skill to learn; develop people, be a leader. Take any role where you can develop teams and individuals, where you can coach and mentor. It hones your leadership skills and helps you at the executive level.
- Sales (revenue forecasting): It is critical to understand your customer, the need your services fulfill, and how revenue is generated. This may be as close as you can get to a customer facing role within finance.
- Champion of change: Change is constant and hard, so strive to gain experience navigating change early and often.
- Work to understand data: “Learn data, data analytics, business intelligence—how to take large data and turn it into small data. Turn data points into decision points,” advised Gabe Zubizarreta, CEO of Silicon Valley Accountants.
- Understand finance from the other side: “One aspect of taking a non-FP&A role that I always enjoyed was experiencing FP&A support from the other side of the table. For someone like me who always finds my way back to FP&A, I enjoy learning from my FP&A peers what a good (and bad) finance partnership looks like,” said Gaileon Thompson, FP&A, CTP, VP, Conifer Health Solutions.
Alternatively, if roles are thrust upon you due to business needs, find in them the opportunities to learn. In all roles we assume that FP&A professionals will bring with them their finance and accounting acumen. In the absence of a role change, projects can simulate many of the above benefits of changing roles. The more you can streamline and automate your current role, the more opportunities you have to create and join projects.
When should you look outside the company for roles? Changing companies is a reality, and that choice needs to be well thought out in light of your ability to develop yourself while adding value.
Emmanuel Caprais, Group CFO at ITT, advised that “if you feel there is a lot of runway at your company for additional responsibility, don’t change. And don’t leave for a title. Early in my career, I remember refusing two or three jobs before leaving the company I was with because they offered more money but not more responsibility. Another time I left and accepted a pay cut because I saw a more exciting long-term opportunity. I am now CFO of that company, and I could not be happier. Understand the critical path to accepting more responsibility.”
If you assume that people will change roles, it becomes important for both the departing employee and former teammates to end that phase of the relationship positively. Maintaining ties is important and may create opportunities in the future.
MOVING INTO NEW ROLES
Many people in finance aspire to the CFO role. The CFO is the steward of company capital, a representative to the board or owners, and leader of a department. The step up to CFO is probably greater than any step along the path, or even a step to CEO, said Zubizarreta. First, the breadth of skills to be CFO requires work in several different areas. At a minimum, CFOs are required to oversee technical accounting, operational analysis, and capital markets involvement. Others have added analytics, administrative functions, procurement, and tax as well.
Second, and more importantly, the full complement of leaderships skills necessary for the CFO is not necessary for the steps leading up to there. “The style of managing down is not the same as managing across the C-level. You cannot dictate. It needs to be an educative, collaborative, and coaching style,” advised Zubizarreta.
FP&A also readily leads to opportunities outside of finance. Caprais said, “my company has a well identified path for people to move from finance to general management. [FP&A] are good at identifying situations fast and correctly; they are recognized for their finance skill and business acumen. For example, we have been putting an emphasis on data analysis in human resources and moving finance people there.”
Ruiz noted that “for opportunities outside of finance, the sky is the limit. Once you are a trusted partner, you can move into any role.”
For more insights on developing an effective career strategy, download the FP&A Guide to Career Pathing.