Candidate Vetting 101 for Accounting and Finance

Must-have qualifications—and qualities—for top accounting and finance professionals

By Gina Kanellos, Managing Director and Partner, Ascendo Resources, Accounting & Finance 

Gina Kanellos-1As a recruiter who specializes in accounting and finance, I love the relationships I create with my clients. By building and maintaining those relationships over time, I gain a greater insight into their organization, the style of management they're looking for, must-have skills for each position, and “nice to have” qualities that would enhance their team dynamic. 

On the candidate's side, I enjoy making a life difference in both their life and in the life of their family. It is extremely gratifying to see applicants go from a good opportunity to something better based on what they really want—better pay, work-life balance, benefits, or a more senior role, for example. In fact, I love to watch a candidate succeed and advance in a role that I have helped place them in because they often become leaders in the company and they become my clients. 

Because accounting and finance require very specific expertise and technical skills, my vetting process starts with the basic qualifications. Knowing exactly what to look for helps me instantly move beyond the standard checklist and find the top professionals in the industry based on the personality traits that will thrive in each role and company. 

Here is how I approach vetting candidates and deciding who to move through to the all-important client-facing interviews. 

Nuts and Bolts: Education and qualifications

Since the expertise necessary for accounting and finance is so specialized, I start the vetting with a look at education and technical skills. A quick resume scan reveals whether or not the candidate meets the bottom-line requirements—a CPA (Certified Public Accountant), CMA (Certified Management Accountant), CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst), and belongs to ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants). At the very least, a candidate needs an undergraduate degree in finance or accounting, and high-level roles require a CPA and/or MBA (Masters of Business Administration). 

From there I look for the technical skills needed, which starts broad and becomes extremely detailed based on the specialization of the role. For example, it is essential for finance candidates to show strong proficiency in financial modeling, data analysis, and expertise in financial reporting, budgeting, and forecasting. But an international tax director, for example, needs to show compliance and provision of international forms, inbound/outbound, transfer pricing, GILTI (Global Intangible Low Tax Income), FDII (Foreign Derived Intangible Income), BEAT (Base Erosion and Anti-Abuse Tax), transfer pricing, and much more. On top of that, candidates need to show a deep understanding of the accounting and finance practices involved in their particular industry coupled with quantitative accomplishments.

My accounting and finance clients span a wide range of specializations, such as tax and audit, technical accounting, finance, M&A, and treasury. They come from many industries, including manufacturing, healthcare, consumer packaged goods, private equity, professional services, and technology in the categories of  PE/VC, publicly traded and private companies and startups. And the positions I fill cover an equally broad swath of job titles in accounting and finance which include staff, manager, director, vice president, controller, CFO, CEO, board of directors, and partners. It is important that I continually hone my expertise in accounting and finance so that I am able to recognize and present top candidates in each specialization. 

The Match Game: Finding candidates who fit the bill

Once I’ve determined a candidate meets the basic criteria of a particular position, then I need to learn about what’s motivating them to look for a new position and what it is they want out of their next role. This is where relationship building begins and trust is established on both sides. 

Before I can introduce them to my client, I need to know what inspires them in their work: Are they looking for an advanced title, a higher salary, a new industry, better work/life balance, advancement opportunities, an easier commute, challenging work, or improved company culture? Who in their life is helping them make their decision about this career move? What is their favorite aspect of their job?

This “getting to know you” phase is especially important when chatting with candidates who hadn’t been considering a move. If I’ve engaged someone who is passive in the job market or if I am referred to this person by a third party, I need to make sure they’re enthusiastic about making a job change and about the role for which they’re being considered. While maintaining confidentiality for my client, I share enough about the job to pique their interest and gauge their energy. 

And even though I’ve become an expert at reading people, I’m sure to conduct thorough interviews, reference checks, and skills assessments to identify the most suitable candidates. Unless I feel confident about how they present to the client, I will not introduce them to the next phase.

Make It So: Turning the client wishlist into a reality

Vetting job candidates is made easier by having strong, long-term relationships with my clients. That means I work to build their trust by meeting them personally and visiting the office as often as possible to get a real sense of the company culture. I listen carefully to the team to gain a full understanding of what the client needs and I make sure they know I’m fully available 24/7 to help them fill open roles. 

Aside from the technical skills-based criteria of a position, there are usually some important qualities they are looking for and these can vary greatly. For example, the list of common qualities my clients are looking for in accounting and finance hires typically includes 

  • Value add: unique ways the candidate can enhance the team and company
  • Attention to detail: the core need for all of accounting and finance
  • Adaptability: for roles that deal with changing regulations and business strategies
  • Problem solving: for cost analysis and inventory management
  • Ability to lead: for leading and inspiring a team now or in the future
  • Communication: a must-have for client retention and bringing in new business

My success with a client depends upon my ability to readily recognize these valuable qualities in applicants and coach candidates on how to best demonstrate them throughout the interview process. 

My long-term relationships with my clients allow me to act as their hiring consultant. Aside from helping fill open roles, I make sure to keep my ear to the ground and advise them on all manner of trends, local markets, hiring peaks and valleys, and industry best practices. Because I work to earn their repeat business, I have the honor of watching their organizations evolve over time and can make sure their hiring practices stay in lock step with those changes. 

My expertise in candidate vetting has shown me that filling a role with just the right person has benefits that reverberate far beyond headcount or busy season survival. Rather, taking the time and effort to make a great match can affect the entire organization to eliminate turnover, enable the business to scale, and most importantly, help employees and their leaders thrive in their chosen field.

Gina Kanellos is Managing Director specializing in Accounting and Finance at Ascendo and is the Regional Partner for Chicago. Her background includes public relations, organizational communications, investor relations, and marketing. By building strong relationships in the industry, Gina has been helping her clients at Ascendo identify the best talent in Chicago—and nationally—for six years. Tax and technical accounting represent the core of her business.  Connect with Gina on LinkedIn.

Ascendo Branding Content- July Snapshot: Chicago

Top 3 industries are manufacturing, professional services,  real estate, and private equity. 

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