For highly skilled and experienced accounting and finance professionals considering the consulting path, 2018 could prove to be an opportune time to enter the field. Current financial hiring trends and market dynamics are creating favorable conditions for consulting opportunities across many industries. And employers that want to bring in specialized consultants should be prepared to move swiftly to secure this in-demand talent in the year ahead.
Carrie Wentling, resource specialist for Robert Half Management Resources and director of member services at Financial Executives International (FEI), says that the senior-level consultants she works with aren’t waiting long between assignments — and that’s been the case for some time. She recommends that employers develop up-to-date and to-the-point job descriptions, so they can increase their ability to hire the consultants they need as swiftly as possible.
“In a market where unemployment is so low, companies can’t afford to waste time in the hiring process,” Wentling says. “They need to be ready to move fast.”
One reason senior-level consultants are in such high demand, she says, is the rise in project-based work. Companies are engaging interim professionals for strategic initiatives that require specialized expertise for a finite period, according to Robert Half’s latest Salary Guide. Many employers also rely on interim talent to help their core team manage cyclical or rapidly changing business demands.
Another trend driving demand for consultants is the challenge employers face in attracting and hiring highly skilled accounting and finance professionals for full-time roles in a tight labor market. Many turn to specialized consultants to help cover critical staffing gaps, including at the senior management level, and to keep work moving forward until they can secure a full-time hire.
Download the 2018 Robert Half Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance Professionals here.
Consultant skills and positions in demand
Wentling says that employers of all types are looking for senior-level consultants who have a strong mix of finance, project management and business analytics skills. “Any firm undergoing a reorganization, or entering a merger or acquisition (M&A) deal, is looking for consultants who have this hybrid skill set,” she says.
Also wanted: Consultants who can help manage the finance side of business systems implementations and upgrades. And Wentling says any specialized consultant who has the “dream combination” of a certified public accountant (CPA) and project management professional certification (PMP) is likely to have multiple assignments from which to choose. Nontechnical skills, such as problem-solving, attention to detail, organizational skills and relationship-building are also valued by employers.
Wentling says she expects, due to compliance mandates, that financial services, insurance and healthcare employers will be competing fiercely for top consulting professionals in the year ahead. “Regulations are always changing for these industries,” she explains. “Audit and compliance demands are also big drivers for specialized talent.”
Consultants are likely to find opportunities at technology firms, as well, due to the project nature of work in that industry, and digital transformation initiatives that require major changes to business processes. Additionally, retail companies may be seeking consulting expertise as they downsize or enter M&A deals, according to Wentling.
As for the types of consulting jobs that will be needed by many employers in the year ahead, Wentling expects to see strong demand for these roles:
Financial and business analysts
Businesses need these specialists to help them identify growth opportunities, boost profits and improve cost control. Senior-level consultants in these roles can also help management to use business and financial information more strategically, and plan appropriately for future hiring and other investments.
See this post for examples of commonly asked financial analyst interview questions — including questions that employers might ask during interviews for senior-level consultant positions.
Business intelligence analysts
Many companies are specifically seeking business intelligence analysts to help them derive and combine insights from big data, which can be used to inform decision-making for the company.
Business analytics skills are a must-have for many accounting and finance jobs. (Find out more.)
Regulatory compliance demands have many organizations, especially financial institutions, bringing in compliance experts to offer objective evaluations of their operations. Senior-level consultants with compliance expertise can help recommend ways to improve compliance processes and keep related costs in check.
Compliance officers are highly sought by many firms. Learn more about their job duties in this post.
Businesses are working with senior accountants to handle everything from preparing budgets to reconciling account balances. These professionals also help to ensure all accounting tasks are performed correctly and according to generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP).
For an overview of a senior accountant’s typical job duties, look here.
Think ahead and budget appropriately
In addition to having up-to-date and accurate job descriptions for the senior-level consultant positions they want to fill, Wentling says that companies should be prepared to pay competitively for the skill sets they are requesting. Also, if they can avoid it, they should not wait until they face a serious staffing crisis to look for these in-demand professionals. If they do, they may end up waiting even longer to fill a critical role.
Being prepared and proactive, Wentling says, can ultimately help employers to accelerate the hiring process for highly skilled consultants. This approach can also increase the company’s chances of connecting with professionals who have the specialized skills the business needs, right when they’re needed most.