Finance team recruitment

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With over ten years experience in senior finance positions, I’ve recruited quite a few finance team members, and helped others do the same. I’ve learned what works for me when it comes to finance team recruitment.

Most of this is applicable to any candidate search process but I’ve added a few thoughts throughout about what might be different about recruiting finance team members.

The more you plan, the better the recruitment

The point of any recruitment process is to get the right candidate for the job. This requires a lot of thinking up front as to what the job is and what “right” looks like.  In order to recruit well, you need these four things;

  • A detailed job description that is honest about the challenges as well as the exciting parts;
  • A “person specification” which sets out what qualities and skills you are looking for;
  • A summary advert which combines elements from these two in a snappy but individual way, so that your role stands out; and
  • An understanding of how you are going to test and assess the candidates against the job specification.

Where and how to advertise

Where to place your advertisement for finance team members is less important than it used to be. The rise of job aggregation sites means that if a candidate is looking for a role in your sector and in your area they will probably find it fairly easily, regardless of which original websites you use.

Finance team recruitment is still dominated by agencies. I am not going to give specific recommendations here. I definitely prefer working with smaller ones that specialise in something (whether it’s sector, or a particular level of staff).

Be aware that many agencies will just stick an advert up on a lot of sites, which you could do just as easily.

Finally, whatever you do, please advertise a salary (or salary range).

Finance team recruitment – consider temp-to-perm and apprenticeships

Temp-to-perm is very common in the finance world as there are lots of temporary roles and temporary candidates. It can be a great way to find out if someone is suited to the role. Be aware that lots of temporary candidates want to remain temporary. Also, any agency will charge a high “finders fee” for making a temporary candidate permanent.

Apprenticeships are another great source of potential employees in the finance world. Finance / accounting apprenticeships are usually centred around the excellent AAT qualifications. They are not just for young people, or school leavers. I’ve found the AAT qualification attracts a diverse range of people.

Make sure you understand about requirements for college time and for support in the workplace. Colleges will usually advertise your role for free with their students. If you are nervous about taking on a complete beginner, you could always specify that you would like someone who has already passed AAT2, as that demonstrates an aptitude and enthusiasm for the subject.

Person specifications

If you have bad experiences with person specifications because of complicated HR forms – don’t be put off! A person specification could just be a couple of bullet points.

Your person specification should cover both technical skills / experience that you expect and the values that you expect. Many organisations do “values-based recruitment”, which is a good way to see if the person will fit with the values of the organisation.

Even if you have a ready set of values and interview questions around those provided to you by your organisation, you still need to put some thought into how these values will apply in this specific role. Also there may be values you specifically need in your finance team which need further emphasis.

Avoid generic phrases like “must be prepared to work hard” or “must be a team player”. If it’s a sentence that could apply to literally any job in the market – leave it out. Also be very careful about the language you use to ensure you are not inadvertently discouraging potential applicants.

Be clear about what is essential and desirable, and avoid having too many things in the “essential” category if you want a range of candidates.

Selecting candidates – application process

If possible, make the initial selection process “blind”, i.e. no reference to candidate names or dates, and employment history only in relevance to the role.

If the organisation’s recruitment practices allow for it, I always want to see how the candidate expresses themselves in an application. By this, I don’t necessarily mean that I am judging their writing, level of English. Its more that I want to see that they have thought about the role and how they would suit it.

I certainly prefer processes, both as a recruiter and as an applicant, where I’m invited to explain how I meet the job description and person specification, rather than having to provide a list of jobs, qualifications etc.

Having said all that, I also understand that this kind of application is quite intimidating to some people. And if you’re recruiting junior finance staff, you probably care a lot more about their numeracy and attention to detail than their confidence in expressing themselves in writing. Ultimately it’s about what’s important for the role.

Testing and assessing candidates

For finance team recruitment I place a lot of weighting on assessments rather than interviews.

I always include some kind of role-based assessment based on the role they will be doing. This may also include numeracy and Excel tests.

I have my own numeracy test that I’ve devised over several years. This focuses on practical accounting related skills such as percentages, calculating growth, VAT adjustments etc.

If the role requires Excel skills, I’ll refer to the ICAEW competency framework and ask candidates questions around this, and test the skills needed. I might give a more advanced Excel user a workbook to analyse. If I’m taking on a work experience or apprentice or other junior staff member, they may not have learned specific Excel skills. In this case I’ll want to see if they are quick and logical learners, so I have devised a special exercise to see how quickly they can pick up a new function and apply it to a situation.

As for role-based assessments – this will depend on the role. For example, I would give a management accountant a set of management accounts to review.

Interviews – useful but have their limits.

Always have at least two interviewers, if not three. For finance team recruitment I always want one of my fellow interviewers to be from outside the finance team.

Have set questions that are related to the person specification and that you ask all candidates. Questions should be open (“how does your experience relate to this”, not “do you have experience of x”). Allow plenty of time for them to ask you questions, as this says a lot about how much they have thought about the role.

Bear in mind that some people interview better than others and make sure you put appropriate weight on other assessments. Accept that you, like all human beings, come into any interaction with your own prejudices and try to ensure these do not impact on your assessment. This is why having other people in the room is critical, although not in itself a solution. If someone ticks the boxes but “they’re not the right fit” – ask yourself why you think that.

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