The finance job market has shifted, and it’s wise to listen up. For employers, that means acting proactively and remaining flexible in order to lock in top talent. For aspiring executives, it’s more important than ever to diversify skillsets.
This is according to Dan Ellis, managing director at Townsend Search Group, an executive search firm that helps companies stack their leadership teams. He shared his insights on the labor market with our Katie Kuehner-Hebert.
What do current trends in the labor market mean for CFOs and other business leaders?
At a broad level, fewer people are pursuing careers in accounting and finance than in the past. That’s contributing to tighter talent pipelines in the space. As a result, we continue to see strong demand for CFOs. Firms are enhancing compensation and equity packages in an effort to secure top-tier financial leaders.
The more significant impact, though, is on teams. For CFOs looking to build out their departments, the market for talent is more competitive. We’ve observed marked salary increases for mid- and senior-level positions in recent months.
In addition, as the business environment shifts, we have witnessed an evolution in the skill sets that are most sought after. Over the past few years, the market has been in growth mode, with heightened M&A activity. That’s still true now, but we’re also seeing signs of distress. Because of that, different areas of expertise are needed, such as treasury and restructuring.
Lastly, given the challenging hiring landscape, companies are having to adjust their models to account for leaner teams. On the flip side, we have technology available today that can help employees automate and identify more efficient ways to conduct work.
What advice do you give CFOs when they’re looking to stack their finance team’s talent roster?
Listening to the market is critical. Employers that are too rigid in their compensation expectations risk losing out on the best candidates. Professionals in the accounting and finance industry can command higher salaries now than they did a few years ago. To attract experienced, skilled applicants, leaders need to be realistic about where the market sits—or open to compromising on experience.
CFOs who want to stack their finance team with top talent should be willing to pay at or above the market rate. Often, that means including equity along with a base salary. Candidates are increasingly looking beyond earnings and at factors like career growth and work-life balance. Providing a clear path for advancement can help companies stand out.
Those in hiring positions need to be proactive, too. It’s not enough to rely on job postings anymore—employers must take an active role in recruiting.
What are the key characteristics of a strong CFO? What attributes or skills do you look for when placing an executive in a C-Suite leadership role?
Being a CFO is a complex and demanding role. It requires a diverse range of skills to successfully oversee a company’s financial strategy and manage a team.
CFOs need to have a strong executive presence and high emotional intelligence. To lead effectively, they must be thoughtful communicators who can model transparency and motivate their teams.
Technical proficiency matters as well. CFOs cannot afford to take any shortcuts. Those who aim to secure a C-Suite position need to round out their skill set. That includes mastering accounting, controllership and financial planning and analysis. It also means having the ability to manage working capital and interface with banks and lenders.
The CFO role calls for a balance of soft and technical skills—and it takes a particular type of candidate to embody both.
What should individuals striving for a CFO role do now to set themselves up for success later on in their careers?
Those hoping to land a CFO role in the future must be deliberate with the experiences and positions they pursue. Above all, they should never stop seeking out opportunities for growth.
People are often very focused on the finance side of the position but overlook the technical skills necessary to master the accounting side. CFOs may not be in those details daily, but they need to be able to understand their team members’ work.
To prepare for the role, mid-career professionals should be thorough in rounding out their expertise. CFOs need to have the flexibility and agility to operate at multiple levels. They may be getting into details with their team one minute and, an hour later, be thinking strategically at the boardroom level.