How to Make Sure You Hire the Right Finance Staff

How do you hire the right staff? You’re right, it’s not an easy exercise. The cost of hiring the wrong person can be very expensive and damaging, not just financially but to the business’s credibility and company morale as well.

 
Let’s start at the point when you know there’s a need to hire a new staff member. The first task is to ensure that you fully understand the job that you’re hiring for.
 
Ask yourself: What has to be achieved in this job? These are known as Key Result Areas, or KRAs. Once these KRAs have been established, the next step is to identify the Key Tasks, which are necessary for these results to be achieved.
 
After that, you can then decide on the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), which shows how the results will be measured. You now have a sufficient foundation on which to build an accurate job profile, which you can then recruit for.
 
Hiring an Accounting Manager
Here is an example of a CFO looking to hire an accounting manager. This finance chief lists down four KRAs:
 
  • Completion of monthly accounts within three days from month’s end compared with seven currently: Deadline – end of current financial year 
  • Provision of meaningful analysis of financial information to senior management, with a view to improving P&L by 10% by the end of the next financial year 
  • Implementation of Oracle financial system by the end of the current financial year 
  • Hiring three new people for the accounting team by the end of the current financial year
 
As you can see, the four KRAs are specific results that the company want to see achieved. Let’s focus on the first KRA and establish the Key Tasks that need to be undertaken to ensure that a close of three days after month’s end is achieved. For this particular KRA, the CFO details four Key Tasks:
 
  • Win the cooperation of other departments towards the objective of submitting financial data (e.g., sales figures, inventory levels) to the accounting department by an agreed deadline 
  • Streamline accounting procedures, including the removal of unnecessary or duplicative processes 
  • Encourage accounting staff to rethink how they manage their ‘link in the chain’ with a view to improving efficiency 
  • Ensure smooth implementation of the Oracle system 

 

After establishing the four Key Tasks that the prospective Accounting Manager will need to undertake if the four KRAs are to be achieved, the CFO now decides how to measure the results. The KPIs are fairly obvious:
 
  • Accurate monthly accounts are completed within three days from month’s end 
  • P&L improved by 10% or more, with positive feedback from senior management 
  • Oracle system is implemented on time and on budget 
  • Three new staff have joined the accounting team
 
Now that the most important aspects of the Accounting Manager’s role have been clarified, the CFO can proceed to draft the job description. This should include all of the responsibilities of the role, with particular attention paid to the KRAs, Key Tasks and KPIs identified. 
 
Skills, Knowledge and Attributes
Regardless of the type of role you are hiring for, you are trying to find the person with the best combination of skills, knowledge and attributes – otherwise known as competencies.
 
Examples of the skills required for the Accounting Manager position may include the ability to use Microsoft Excel to the fullest and the ability to meet deadlines through effective planning.
 
Examples of knowledge needed could be five years’ experience of using the Oracle financial software that you’re looking to implement and a particular academic qualification.
 
Examples of attributes could be the willingness to work long hours and weekends to achieve the three days after month’s end target and the desire to partner with other departments to bring more meaning to the monthly figures through better interpretation and teamwork.
 
Attributes reflect the person’s needs, values and interests. They identify whether the applicant has the attitude required to succeed in the job and blend with the company’s culture.
 
Interview Questions
Once you have developed the competency profile of the person you believe will best succeed, the next step is to draft a set of interview questions designed to discover which candidates possess the competencies you’re looking for and which ones don’t.
 
Many organizations around the world use a method of interviewing simply called competency-based interviewing. This method uses open-ended questions starting with words such as how, what, when, where, which, why and who – questions that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no.
 
The key objective is to ask questions that require the candidate to talk about what they have actually done in a particular situation, rather than what they would do. This is an important distinction to make because you are looking for facts, not opinions.
 

Let’s go back to the Accounting Manager role, in particular the third KRA listed – implementation of an Oracle financial system. An interview question you might want to ask is:

 
“Tell me about the Oracle implementation project you were part of in your current company. What was your role, what did you do, and what was the result?”
 
The candidate will then have to provide you with a factual account of how he or she used that exact competency and what success was achieved. You must be attentive when listening to the answers, as some candidates may say: “We did this . . .” What you want to know is exactly what the candidate did, not what his or her team achieved. It is also about what he or she has actually done, what he or she would do.
 
STAR Answers
By asking these kinds of questions, you are prompting the candidate to provide you with what’s commonly known as STAR – Situation, Task, Action and Result. STAR answers offer you an insight into the candidate’s past behaviour, which can be taken as a predictor of future behaviour.
 
The questions that elicit STAR answers can be couched in negative or positive terms. A negative-oriented question may be framed thus: “Tell me abut a time in your current company where you had a conflict with another staff member. What did you do and what was the result?”
 
Asking for these specific examples will allow you to discover whether the candidate has done the things that you’ll need them to do successfully in the role you are looking to fill.
 
Once you have a list of candidates to interview, a good idea is to draw a grid on a sheet of paper, with each candidate’s name across the top and each of the competencies down the side. Ask each candidate exactly the same questions and tick or cross each relevant box, depending on your assessment of the answer.
 
By doing this, you should be able to easily measure which candidate has the combination of competencies you’re looking for. Hopefully, you won’t overlook or misinterpret any important information; you won’t rush your decision; and you’ll be objective.
 
Head and Heart
I like to call what I discussed above as the science part of the process, the part ruled by your head. I do also recommend, though, that you add a little bit of art to the process, the part ruled by your heart.
 
The head will tell you this person is well qualified for the role; the heart will tell you that you like this person and that you believe he or she will blend in with your company’s culture very easily.
 
Over the years, I have advised companies to take a structured approach in the entire recruitment exercise, including the interview process. I believe that hiring staff in a hurry, basing the decision on gut instinct and not having a structured platform for preparing the job profile, interview questions and candidate assessment only increase the risk of getting it wrong.
 
About the Author
Brian Moore is an experienced CFO recruitment and career management expert who heads his own firm, Brian Moore International. This article is an edited version of one chapter in his book, Career Management Toolkit.
 

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