ACCA Careers editor
While finance professionals are currently in a strong position, potential candidates should do their homework first.
Recruiting finance professionals has been a tough proposition for some time now. Even before the Great Resignation muddied the waters further, qualified accountants were hard to come by.
Simply put, there aren’t enough people to satisfy demand, with the upstream talent pipeline into the profession not strong enough to counter a downstream compounded by ageing populations, early retirees, people stepping back to care for families and career changers.
This bottleneck, on paper at least, puts finance professionals and those entering the profession in the driving seat.
"From the candidate’s perspective, there’s a better choice of positions and these tend to offer better salaries and benefits, as employers know they have to compete with each other to recruit the best talent," says Victoria McLean, CEO and founder of career consultancy City CV.
"This means candidates can expect a little more in terms of salary and should be able to negotiate good benefits, such as hybrid working, health options and study support. Candidates will probably also find that employers try and sell themselves on the strength of their culture or reputation."
Yet seeming to have the upper-hand comes with its own pitfalls and caveats. For starters, it can lead to complacency, an inflated sense of self-value or believing that employers are desperate.
"Despite the current employment market, you should not become complacent; apply the same amount of time and effort into applying for a position as you would ordinarily," says Simon Reichwald, chief progression officer at mentoring software developer Connectr. "Quality employers want to see evidence of research into their business and as much enthusiasm as prior to the tip towards a candidate-driven market. Preparation for application and interviews will positively pay off and help candidates stand out."
Given the darkening economic clouds globally, this preferential market may not remain as it is for long, so if you’re thinking of moving, perhaps ‘sooner rather than later’ should be your mantra. Having said this, the fundamental challenges facing employers – a low supply of finance professionals and people leaving the profession – is still in effect, so don’t expect a volte face.
First things first
"Regardless of the market, you should always have an up-to-date and relevant CV," says Kathryn Swan, head of professional services at Morgan McKinley. "That way, if a job opportunity is presented to you, you can quickly tailor your recent experience to the requirement."
"Employers know they need to be offering an enhanced candidate experience, but rather than just taking their word for their values from their website, look for the proof," says Reichwald.
"Do they have a candidate platform that tells you about the learning and development opportunities available? What evidence is there that they value diversity and inclusion? Have you been given the opportunity to ask people in the business what it’s like to work there? Proof and transparency is key."
Additionally, consider the speed of contact and responsiveness from the business. "Rather than automated responses, a business should humanise the recruitment journey. After all, how an organisation communicates is a good indication of how they operate as an employer," Reichwald adds.
Prepare to negotiate
"Candidates are in the driving seat, which means you hold a position of power in terms of negotiating your salary and overall benefits package," says McLean. "Firstly, it’s important to know your value – check the average salaries for the position – and what you want in terms of benefits. You may be able to negotiate flexible working, wellness benefits, a good personal development plan, training opportunities and more."
McLean recommends brushing up on your negotiating skills, as much to know how far to push as to push at all. "Employers won’t look too kindly on candidates who push too far; there is always a limit. And while there may be other opportunities around, you can’t bank on getting them all and having your choice of role or company.
"Be respectful and authentic, and be mindful that you’ll potentially be working alongside the people you’re negotiating with; you don’t want to leave them with a bad taste in their mouths before you even start."
Reichwald also points out that throughout the recruitment process, employers are assessing your ability to deal with their clients, so consider your outward image.
Build your brand
This brings us to personal branding. Whether you’re a passive jobseeker (not looking but open to approaches) or actively hunting, a well-curated personal brand can make a big difference to the quality of opportunities and how you line up for them.
"It’s the perfect way to be more competitive," says Maciej Kubiak, head of people at technology start-up PhotoAiD. "By becoming a better brand, you leave the competition behind."
A strong personal brand enhances visibility and can improve credibility. Branding yourself as an accomplished, knowledgeable specialist can lead to better offers and more interesting work.
"If we build authentic value, the price of our services ceases to be the most important factor. You pay more for quality and most clients understand this very well. Greater quality and reputation mean greater prices. Higher prices mean bigger profit and, in the end, everyone ultimately cares about that," Maciek says.
‘Having an established brand, you have more freedom. Employers will start to demand your services.’
Source: ACCA Accounting and Business magazine