As we edge out of recession, the start of the recovery offers a chance for local businesses to get a head start on rivals. But capitalising on the upturn means making the right decisions and making them quickly – from when to invest more in R&D and marketing, to training staff and recruiting new people.
Some of the region’s businesses will find making these decisions easier than their rivals thanks to the critical role played by switched-on and strategic-thinking finance people. Employers are looking for commercially-astute staff, but finding these kinds of accountants is not always as simple as it looks.
These ‘new generation’ accountants don’t simply act as a support to other departments, but challenge strategic and operational decisions and offers alternatives. They are, if you like, the glue that holds the whole process together.
Many organisations successfully recruit people with the right skills to take on a more commercial role. The challenge is how to recruit finance people who really can make a big difference to an organisation – not just those who look good on paper. We are seeing an increased demand for top accountants with the sort of strategic planning, problem solving and leadership skills that put FDs at the commercial heart of businesses. But finding the people that really have these competencies – not just the ability to put a CV together – means changing the way businesses recruit.
In HR circles, the solution is known as competency-based interviewing. It’s an approach routinely used by large employers, but smaller organisations are increasingly using these techniques too. Competency-based interview questioning allows the interviewer to get beyond standard CV claims to assess how a candidate’s past activities can predict future performance.
Sometimes called structured interviewing – a clue to the fact this is a lot of common sense rather than HR wizardry – competency-based interviews give information about a person’s past behaviour and experience so recruiters can score and compare candidates. This helps recruiters make hiring decisions based on evidence rather than gut feeling.
It is therefore important for accountants and finance professionals to ensure that they understand the concept of competency-based interviewing and thoroughly prepare beforehand.
Perhaps the most common competencies are: Communication, Customer Focus, Teamwork, Leadership, Planning and Organisation, Commercial Awareness, Flexibility, Problem Solving, Analytical Thinking and Influencing Others.
These will vary depending on the role and the level however in the interview; however, you should expect a series of competency-based questions exploring each competency. These are usually behavioural in nature and take the form of:
- Tell me about a time when you?
- Describe a situation when you?
- What would you do if?
- When you give your answer the interviewer will dig deeper and ask about the detail such as:
- How did you do that?
- Tell me exactly what steps you took to resolve that?
By investigating further, the interviewer is trying to discover more about your skills as well as looking for clues that may suggest that you are exaggerating your part in the process.
When answering competency-based interview questions, I suggest that you choose answers based on real experiences that you have had. Your answers need to be relevant and sufficiently detailed. Be specific and tell a story. A technique to use when answering competency style questions is:
1. Set the scene and describe the situation, problem or task;
2. Talk about the role you played and what action you took;
3. Explain the result. In finance this would ideally include financial figures, cost benefits to the company or profit made.
Always use “I" rather than we".
I also recommend that you prepare two examples for each competency so that you have enough to use in the interview and do not use the same example more than once. The more you prepare, the better you will portray your true abilities to ultimately ensure the interview is a success.
Alex Gregory is the Director at Grafton Banks Finance Ltd. He has over ten years’ senior finance recruitment experience. In September 2008 Alex established Grafton Banks Finance Ltd, recruiting interim and permanent qualified finance professionals across Sussex and South Surrey.