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Why Soft Skills Still Matter in Finance and Accounting

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The exact cost of employee turnover can fluctuate — it’s highly dependent on variables such as hiring and training expenses — but regardless of local conditions, experts agree it isn’t cheap. Credible estimates range from 1.5 times the annual salary of each lost worker to potentially millions per employee.

Since the number of job postings is now higher than ever recorded by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one can only expect increases to the costs associated with employee turnover.

Bottom line?

In the current labor market, employee retention should be the top priority for every employer, starting with your very next hire.

Enacting a hiring protocol that accounts for each candidate’s soft skills profile, as well as their more measurable proficiencies and prior experience, is one key to reducing turnover. But how can hiring managers in finance and accounting departments get there?

To find out, we asked Aston Carter Account Executive & Business Development Manager Craig Bettencourt, whose near-decade of experience placing talent and managing accounts in the New York City market has shown him nearly every variation a labor market can bear.

How Soft Skills Play in the Current Job Market

With unemployment at a generational low and job openings at a historic high, it may seem like a candidate’s soft skills should matter much less than whether or not they can fulfill the basic demands of a given position. This is increasingly true for finance and accounting roles where required skills often have more to do with processing figures than dealing with people.

However, says Bettencourt, “Soft skills probably matter even more now. Even though the labor pool for finance and accounting talent is tight, employers have to be extra rigid about extending offers only to people who will be invested for the long haul, and not jump at the first of many opportunities to leave.”

Of course not all roles require the same level of dedication to screening a candidate’s soft skills profile.

“In a short term, temporary role, the soft skills are not going to be as important as in a contract to hire role,” says Bettencourt. “The more specialized the role, the more you’ll need those soft skills to be on point on a daily basis, but even more for transactional accounting roles that are much more numbers-heavy. Candidates whose soft skills align with your company’s culture are more likely to stay.”

A recommended approach to finding long-term employees in the current job market may be to backfill basic hard-skill daily accounting requirements with temporary and interim consultants while pursuing a longer, more targeted search for permanent employees with the right soft skills profile.

And if that perfect candidate is not forthcoming, rely on training to make up the difference.

Says Bettencourt, “When it comes to advanced technical skills like Excel macros and VBA [Visual Basic for Applications], sometimes it’s better to hire a good personal fit with intermediate skills such as pivot tables and Vlookups and teach them advanced Excel abilities.”

Integrating Soft Skills Assessment Throughout the Hiring Funnel

The interpersonal and professional qualities defined as soft skills show up more readily in person than they can on a resume or a job description.

“For every meeting, whether that’s between us and a client, with any candidate we’re evaluating through a search on behalf of a client, or in any interview between our client and the candidates we’re suggesting, we want to try to do it in person,” says Bettencourt.

By humanizing each step of the hiring process to include in-person meetings, you’ll give your staffing partner reliable information they’ll need to properly screen candidates for the right soft skills profile. “While screening candidates,” says Bettencourt, “we’re much more successful placing candidates after experiencing for first-hand what both the environment and manager are like.”

Challenges to Qualifying Soft Skills of Finance and Accounting Candidates

Those who pursue finance and accounting careers often face a particular public perception about their interpersonal skills, or relative lack thereof. Whether accurate or not, this perception can lead to hiring processes that don’t evaluate soft skills as rigorously as the current job market dictates.

“Within the accounting and finance field, hiring managers and candidates alike can be more introverted by nature,” says Bettencourt. “But regardless of how introverted somebody is, it’s still important to draw out information that can tell you more about that quality of fit.”

That process — getting the right information to assess a candidate’s soft skills profile — is a skill unto itself.

And it’s often underdeveloped.

Hiring in finance and accounting can often proceed by the book, from job description to job offer, based on technical requirements alone.

“A job description is just like a resume,” says Bettencourt. “It's only as good as the paper that it's on. In theory you can hire based on quantifiable metrics, but your needs on paper are different than what happens once you’ve hired a person who’s now expected to perform within a system and culture that involves other people.”

If your institution could benefit from a free conversation about the skills that make a difference in finance and accounting, contact Aston Carter now to find out how best to find available talent that matches your needs.

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