How to Find Finance Professionals with Solid Soft Skills

A finance professional confers with her colleagues

Succeeding in the finance profession requires more than just credentials, industry expertise and familiarity with the appropriate technology, like enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. It's the soft skills, such as communication and leadership, that distinguish the strongest candidates from the crowd. These nontechnical attributes give finance professionals the edge they need to form effective partnerships with colleagues, take on new responsibilities and meet the challenges of today's finance teams.

Here are some qualities to look for when building your team, as well as tips for identifying these attributes in job candidates and current staff members:

Soft Skill #1: Professional Ethics

Dealing with sensitive information in a confidential and responsible way is is one of the most important soft skills for finance professionals to possess. You should seek to build a team that exhibits trustworthiness, good judgment and discretion.

Identifying professional ethics among job candidates

When you're interviewing job candidates, ask open-ended questions such as, "Can you describe for me a time in your career when you were encouraged to cheat on a test or report, and how you handled it?" Or ask hypothetical questions that encourage finance professionals to imagine how they would respond to a situation at work. For example, "How would you respond if your boss asked you to do something that went against your personal values?"

Also, make sure to perform careful reference checks of each candidate you consider for a job. Ask specifically about times when the person displayed ethical behavior on the job.

Identifying professional ethics among your current staff

You can evaluate the soft skills current employees have by watching them as they work. Do they cut corners on projects? When they make mistakes, do they make excuses, blame coworkers or otherwise or fail to take responsibility? If so, think carefully before you promote these finance professionals; they may not have the level of professional ethics you seek, especially among your leadership team.

Soft Skill #2: Natural Inquisitiveness

The best employees are always looking for ways to improve and grow their careers. At the same time, they're naturally inquisitive about the business and their role in helping it succeed. They seek information. They identify processes that can be improved, suggest new technologies that can aid the team and keep current on developments in the finance industry.

Identifying natural inquisitiveness among job candidates

You can guage a job candidate's penchant for learning by asking the person to explain the continuing education and online job training they've participated in over the course of his or her career. If the finance professional has been out of work, what did he or she do to maintain a sharp skill set during that time? Look for those who show an ongoing commitment to learning new skills and keeping up to date on industry trends.

Identifying natural inquisitiveness among your current staff

When considering finance professionals for management roles, look for innate curiosity when evaluating their soft skills. Do they seem interested in other departments and the tasks of more senior roles? Do they take advantage of free training offered by the company? If so, they could be the right people to groom for leadership roles.

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Soft Skill #3: Leadership Skills

One of the keys to successful management is recruiting and developing finance professionals with good leadership skills and soft skills that allow them to motivate a team. The future of your business depends on building a roster of up-and-coming leaders who can assume managerial roles as current leaders are promoted, retire or otherwise leave the organization.

Identifying leadership skills among job candidates

When you're interviewing finance professionals, ask job candidates to describe a time when they served as a leader and how others responded to their leadership style. Also ask them about a time they successfully delegated a project. After all, good leadership also requires knowing when to hand projects off to others.

This is also an area where the reference check can be particularly enlightening. Ask references about the applicant's soft skills and specific times when the person served as a leader, whether that was for a single project or on an ongoing basis. In what aspects of leadership did the candidate excel? Where could the person improve? Perhaps most important: If the potential hire managed the references, did they enjoy working for the person?

Identifying leadership skills among your current staff

Besides looking for leadership qualities when hiring, you need to develop strong leaders among your existing employees. Observe them as they work on projects and see if any of them naturally take the lead in a way that other employees feel comfortable with. Do they exhibit soft skills that encourage team cohesion, collaboration and enthusiasm?

Also ask yourself questions like the following:

  • Whose hand goes up first when you need someone to lead an initiative?
  • Who do team members instinctively turn to for advice, input or guidance?
  • Who do you use as a sounding board when needing to make tough decisions?
  • Who do you consider a capable lieutenant when you're out of the office?

In addition, be sure to have regular conversions with the finance professionals on your team about their career goals. Who among them is interested in taking on more responsibility or assuming a leadership role? You may be surprised who expresses this desire.

Invest in those who show leadership potential through career coaching, leadership workshops, educational opportunities and mentoring.

Soft Skill #4: Communication

Communication skills are often at the top of the list of soft skills employers look for in finance professionals. One reason is that finance professionals are increasingly required to share financial data with — and explain the meaning to — individuals throughout the business. They need to be able to related complex ideas in a way that's easy for a non-financial audience to understand.

Identifying communication skills among job candidates

Look closely at the resumes and cover letters finance professionals submit when applying for open roles with your organization. The way they organize information and construct sentences can tell you a lot about their ability to get ideas across clearly and concisely. 

During interviews, observe how clearly job candidates articulate their ideas and positions. Ask questions like "What communication style works best for you?" and "If you had a meeting with a supervisor and needed to relay information from the meeting to coworkers, how would you make sure the message was clearly communicated?"

Identifying communication skills among your current staff

Among your current staff, you can test communication skills during meetings. If an employee dominates the conversation or cuts off other speakers, chances are he or she doesn't possess the communication skills necessary to excel in higher-level roles.

Keep your eye out for finance professionals who are open-minded, respect diverse opinions and cultural backgrounds, and treat everyone with politeness and professionalism — from the courier to the receptionist to the CEO.

In addition, look for finance professionals who are clear and concise in their written communication and observe proper business etiquette when using devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops.

When adding new financial professionals or considering promoting members of your team, look beyond their technical assets, finance skills and educational credentials. First-rate soft skills are vital assets as well.

More tips for evaluating and building soft skills