Career Strategies for Financial Executives in 2018

A discussion with Carrie Wentling, FEI's Director of Member Services about new career tracks for finance executives.

The war for talent isn't cooling down anytime soon, especially when it comes to the financial suite. Companies are finding unique ways of attracting job seekers and seeking candidates with a particular set of technical and soft skills who will also fit in with the company culture. Carrie Wentling, FEI's Director of Member Services, helps FEI members in staffing permanent employees and in their transitions between roles. We spoke with Carrie about what we can expect in the battle for financial talent in the new year.
A transcript of the podcast is directly below the player.


Oliva Berkman: Carrie, thanks for joining us.

Carrie Wentling: Thanks for having me.

Berkman: How would you describe the battle for financial talent in 2018? Is it a buyer's or seller's market?

Wentling: The battle for financial talent in 2018 is definitely intense. With the U.S. unemployment rate remaining steady at a low 4.1 percent it is truly a candidate's market. I would say it's a seller's market. The talent is hard to find, especially in individuals that aren't currently working for other companies. So not only are companies realizing that they need to attract new talent, but also retain the great talent that they currently have.

Berkman: What are the most important skills that companies are looking for in the financial suite this year?

Wentling: Certifications are always great to have. The CPA continues to be the gold standard in the field. Project Management Professional (PMP) is a great option for those financial professionals who are looking to also take on some project management. Some clients look for that. We see it a lot in insurance companies and financial companies. They're looking for someone who has the knowledge and accounting background, but can come in and help them with projects within those departments. That's another great certification to look at. It's a little outside the box.

Communication and organization are always key. Culture fit has been huge because if the clients cannot find the 100 percent fit in the market with it being so tight, they're finding someone who has 70 percent of the technical skills and 30 percent of the cultural fit. As long as they can be flexible and work well within their team, they figure that they can learn the other skills. They can be taught. Some of the technical skills that are always helpful are MS Dynamics, QuickBooks, Sage, Advanced Excel but also Access as well. SQL, we've seen an increase in Tableau, so that's another skillset on the technical side that individuals can look for. Hyperion, Oracle, SAP, the typical accounting software.

Berkman: In regards to salaries, what are the trends you're seeing change the market in 2018? Increase in base or incentive compensations?

Wentling: Managers across industries are sweetening the accounting salaries. They are more willing now to pay higher salaries for skilled professionals because of the tight market. We're seeing an increase across the board. The base salaries, absolutely. And incentive comp is alive and well. We're seeing a lot of sign-on bonuses. Also, higher contributions to medical health costs for employees. It's really case by case depending on if it's an increase in base or incentive comp, but either way, we're definitely seeing an increase there.

Berkman: You mentioned CPA before. How important is that designation in your searches and do you see the attitudes changing towards certifications?

Wentling: CPA is definitely the gold standard in accounting, so I don't really see a change in the certifications. It's always an added bonus. A lot of times if you have the certification you will get that higher salary, you will get the promotion before someone who does not have the certifications. It's definitely still important. If you are on the fence about getting that this year I would definitely say it would be a good investment for yourself.

Berkman: What advice would you give senior-level financial executives who are looking to advance his or her career?

Wentling: The advice I would give is to really take a proactive role in managing their own careers, build the relationships with individuals across the organization, not only with the President and CEO, but meet with the other departments. Find out what they do, how they fit into the company and how each department contributes. It's the big picture, getting to know everyone. It will test their leadership and project management skills.

They may also find streamlining, cost savings, silo gaps that they can close while they're doing it, but definitely don't get stuck in your one position. Try to grow. Even if you have to move laterally, it's a good idea to do that.

Second thing, prepare a successor. It is more challenging to move up the ladder if you are considered irreplaceable, so make sure that the business has someone who can fill your shoes if and when you are promoted.

Lastly, they should focus on leadership skills. You should volunteer to speak in front of audiences, meet with your peers. If you have all of the knowledge but you cannot communicate it, it's really going to be hard for you to get promoted. Instead of mastering your accounting and finance skills, really focus on your leadership skills.

Berkman: Outside of networking and presentation skills, what are some of the soft skills that really need to be developed to be an attractive candidate or just to excel in the career that they have?

Wentling: I think the difference in this day and age is you have to be flexible. They want you to move around in the different departments. I think before we were more focused on mastering the accounting skills. Be able to wear many hats and really think outside the box.

Berkman: What about FEI members who are in transition now? What are the challenges that they're facing and what advice would you give to them?

Wentling: Most of the members that I speak with, because they are at such high-level positions, it's hard for them to find permanent roles right away when they find themselves out of work. They weren't really planning for it. A lot of times it catches them by surprise. They're towards the end of their career and obviously with the demand in the market there's a lot more staff accountant positions than senior-executive roles.

I always tell them while they're looking for that permanent role, it helps if they're open to consulting positions in the meantime just to keep their skills sharp and it's also a good way to network. Once you get in the door of a company, you can meet other people and try to create an opportunity for yourself. I think the more flexible they can be while they're looking for work, the better off they will be in the long run.

In the program that we currently have with Robert Half and FEI that I run, members can reach out to me if they're in transition and I am the middle man to connect them with the appropriate Robert Half staff who can help them look for consultant roles or permanent positions while they're out of work. The other thing is for members who are struggling with staffing needs, they can reach out to me as well.

Again, I would be that middle man working with Robert Half and if we successfully place a permanent candidate through that program, FEI receives a portion of the revenue from the placement. Lastly, we're just trying to grow membership so any permanent Robert Half placement that qualifies for an FEI membership, they're receiving a one year FEI national free membership.

Then that gives them the opportunity to join at the chapter level if they would like.

Berkman: Great. How can members reach you?

Wentling: Sure, so they can give me a call at 973-765-1067 or send me an email at cwentling@financialexecutives.org.