The struggle to find - and secure - finance and accounting talent is real and palatable. AFP’s North American FP&A Advisory Council (FPAAC) recently met to discuss the recruiting and hiring landscape. Jenn Zinschlag, Director, Accounting and Finance Search for StevenDouglas provided real-time insight to the market for talent that changes day by day.
“It's the main topic in my world every day, all day: finance and accounting talent,” said Zinschlag. “I just had a discussion with a client who is pulling out her hair. She said, ‘Wait a second, a year ago we could hire people at $90k, and it’s $120k now.’ People don’t want to hear it, but there's not a single recruiter that can put their finger on one definitive reason for it.”
“And it’s not just finance,” said Geetanjali Tandon, senior vice president of Financial Planning & Analysis, Ceridian. “I was told by the global talent leader in my company that what people are asking for is just ... We can't sustain it.”
Zinschlag provided a baseline by explaining the demand for talent: there are currently 17,000+ financial analyst positions listed on LinkedIn alone, both remote and onsite. That includes senior financial analysts, supply chain financial analysts, anything with the words “financial analyst” in the title. Zinschlag sees how a hot economy driven by private equity investments, carve-outs, SPAC transactions and IPOs lead management to need more or just different talent.
“I have a company that retained me for 16 new hires that were never there before — 16 brand-new jobs, from VP down to senior analysts,” she said. “A big reason that there's so many jobs out there has nothing to do necessarily with the Great Resignation. People didn't just resign; they went to new jobs and left a hole somewhere in the job market.”
Zinschlag offered six ways employers can improve their chances to bring in top talent:
- Show them the money. There is no getting around it, competitive wages are critical, which is translating to a 15 to 20% increase in base salaries for certain roles. “My clients are battling HR a lot of times, where HR is looking at a salary guide that came out in 2020/2021, yet salaries are changing week to week.”
- Consider non-monetary benefits. Beyond money, people are choosing jobs based on the work/life balance, strong benefits, and education/certification reimbursement. “They're going to the remote or flexible hybrid jobs. They're going to companies that pay for 100% of healthcare or are doing something cool out in the environment. They're looking more and more at the whole picture.” Across multiple polls conducted by StevenDouglas on LinkedIn over the last two years, there is one statistic that has remained constant: 50-60% of people really want hybrid situations, followed by fully remote at 40-50%. And the lower you get on the staff pyramid, the more candidates and professionals are requiring 100% remote.
- Provide exciting work. You have to sell the excitement of the role beyond saying they will simply learn a lot through planning and budgeting. Top FP&A talent also wants exposure to sophisticated initiatives, including M&A/IPO/private equity transactions, software/tech implementations, and process improvements. “The biggest motivator we on the finance recruiting side are seeing is people who want to become managers way sooner than we've ever seen; they're looking at least for that path,” she said. How can you help them build their resume?
- Commit to top tools. For many candidates, their first two questions are: What are their current technologies, and what are they looking to implement? Candidates want to build their skill set on tools beyond spreadsheets, and view the tools available as a proxy measure for the quality of work and investment in their people.
- Commit to an efficient hiring process. This is non-negotiable. Candidates feel that your hiring process is pretty indicative of what your organization is like on the inside. “I’ve had candidates back out before the process even started if it was too long.” About 60% of candidates polled said any interview plus hiring process over two weeks is too long, unless you’re talking about a C-suite or very specific niche hire. “I assume anyone I talk to has three or four interviews going on at the same time, so streamlined processes are required if you’re wanting to land the best candidates.”
- Strong candidates want to join strong teams. All of Zinschlag’s candidates look at hiring manager’s LinkedIn profiles. “They're very, very interested in seeing who they're reporting to,” she said. As a leader, have your LinkedIn profile built out with a couple of things you've done in each position, some success stories, some accomplishments. Candidates want to know the background of the person they’re reporting to, the level of talent on the team, and what value they can add to the organization.
Compensation causing internal inequity
Mario Vasquez, FPAC, financial director of The E.W. Scripps Company said they recently hired a senior analyst at $10,000 more annually than they were expecting — or wanting — to pay. It had to be approved through their comp team, as they have to review and approve salaries before hiring anyone to make sure it’s not causing any equity issues for those already in the role. “Have you heard of anyone who couldn’t come up to the requested or offered salary because it would cause inequality internally, or doing it anyway, but then having to make pay adjustments across the board for everyone in that position?” asked Vasquez.
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“Yes,” said Zinschlag. Specifically, she deals with a lot of private equity groups who take over a company and want to level up all the talent, but they don't want to lose their previous staff. “It's hard to pay an existing financial analyst without an MBA, without any certification, without the hot skills, the same $115k you're about to pay the person you're bringing in who's got an MBA in analytics, SQL skills, the ability to put together a dashboard in Tableau, they've got all this,” she said.
“How do we explain to these other candidates that they're not the same level of talent that we're paying this other person? We've seen companies just cap off the budget and not chase the market. You either can hire that person or you can't,” said Zinschlag. Alternatively, employers can create (and invest in) educational opportunities to upskill their current talent and then match the newer salaries, or turnover the majority of their staff.
This is not sustainable
Zinschlag told the group about one candidate who graduated in May 2021 that has been promoted to senior financial analyst. He’s limited to $94k because his company bases salaries on a tier related to title, so he is actively looking for a management role — because he wants $115k.
“These are the unrealistic expectations all of us [recruiters] and your HR departments are dealing with. People think that their skill sets are inflated because they've been compensated a little bit too much at this point in their career,” said Zinschlag.
“This is not sustainable,” said Carmen Turner, director of Finance, SwipeSense Inc., summarizing the sentiments of the Advisory Council. “If you start out at a high base, there's really no room for growth based on the company's budget. Then next problem is people are going to be leaving in two to three years because their comp will have stagnated. This cycle of high turnover may continue indefinitely.”
“How do we even plan for it going forward?” said Tandon. “We all put in 3-4% merit increases and that's not enough. Where and when do we actually start looking 12 months down the road, how are we planning for that? That's also our challenge as FP&A professionals.”
Zinschlag tries to explain this challenge to candidates, telling them they’re going to get into a position of not seeing merit increases because the company can’t afford it; candidates are asking them to stretch so far above their original budget. “There's no easy answer because it would require the entire market of corporate business to get together on the same plane and make something happen,” she said. Candidates recognize this is a buyers’ market and are getting what they can now.
On the hunt for a new job?
For those who may be seeking new jobs, Zinschlag had the following considerations for what employers are seeking:
- Consistency. Your résumé and LinkedIn profile should both include the same information: brief descriptions of your company including ownership status/revenues/industry, your responsibilities, and most importantly your accomplishments in each role. (Zinschlag always reminds candidates to talk about what they “made, saved and achieved” when interviewing or revamping a résumé.)
- Credentials. MBAs and certifications carry a lot of weight. MBAs focused on finance plus strategy, or finance plus data analytics are becoming more valued.
- Tenure. While short stints at one company are often very explainable/understandable, companies are averse to those who consistently show a history of short tenures. (This is one of Zinschlag’s more common reasons for clients to decline interviewing a candidate.)
- Differentiation. For example, if you are interviewing for a role where they’re looking for a strong financial modeler, bring an example of your work to the interview or offer to share it via email if virtual. Demonstrate thought leadership through your AFP membership, speaking engagements and articles.
- Connect with good local and national recruiters. Companies are utilizing external support more than ever due to the talent shortage, and virtual roles open up new geographies for your search.