Want to be a Financial Analyst?

In my last post I discussed the basic fundamentals a candidate must possess to qualify for a role in a corporate financial planning and analysis department. These positions are highly competitive as many in accounting and finance gravitate to the more forward-looking, analytics, management-facing roles. If you think this type of role is what you want to do, don’t wait until you’re facing an interview to determine how you can brand yourself competitively. Here are some things you can focus on to make you more competitive a position in FP&A.

Budgeting and forecasting. This might be one of the easier areas to gain experience since most accounting and finance roles are involved, to some degree, in the company’s budgeting process. Come up with two or three ways you’ve been involved in your company’s budgeting or forecasting process. If you don’t have this experience yet, figure out a way you can add value during the process this year.

Systems implementation experience. When you work with a team on the implementation of a new general ledger or ERP, you gain valuable broad-based knowledge about the company. Experience like this is a good indicator that the candidate is tech savvy and has experience on large longer-time frame projects. If you ever have the opportunity to participate in this kind of project with your company, be sure and seize it. When you do get this type of experience, be sure to document the details of what the project encompassed, what your role was, and all the experiences you’ll need to remember.

Visual Basic in Excel. As mentioned in my last article, any Accounting and Finance candidate with programming experience is going to have an advantage. VB in Excel is especially helpful as it can be utilized in every FP&A that runs Excel – which is all of them. VB can be used either in process automation or in financial modeling. Get a feel for how your knowledge of the subject stacks up against others and be able to explain examples where you’ve employed this skill to solve a problem.

Programming languages like dot net or MDX. Other programming languages are also a plus. Again, this just continues to illustrate your technical ability as a strong candidate. Many times a little bit of programming can really help you harness the power of your BI tools, like Hyperion Essbase or Microsoft Analysis Services. Having this understanding also makes interfacing with the IT folks on projects much easier. Make sure you can explain how you utilized these systems, do not just memorize their names. Boiling down your involvement and knowledge into simple concepts is a sign of thorough understanding. If your future hiring manager is not as technical, this ability will be key.

Read and learn about things outside your normal job. If someone is hungry for knowledge, chances are they will exemplify this in other areas of their life than just their professional work. I look for indications they strive to learn and better themselves in their personal life. Some of the strongest candidates I’ve seen have even completed unrelated college degrees for their own personal development. Have a few examples of things that interest you and how you’ve taken steps to pursue those interests.

Pursue or plan to pursue an advanced degree and certifications. The master’s degree is the new bachelor’s. Pursuit of an advanced degree demonstrates drive and ambition along with dedication to advancing in your career, but receiving it in itself does not separate you from your competition. If you don’t already have your master’s degree, be able to explain your plan for earning it. If you already have a master’s, then get certified.

Teamwork and leadership ability. Working well with people, especially in FP&A, is crucial. Many times challenging projects require compromise to generate buy-in from diverse sets of perspectives and backgrounds. Volunteer leadership experience is always a plus. It shows that the candidate feels developing leadership skills is important enough to volunteer their time. Prepare to speak to examples inside or outside of work where people were difficult and your role was to lead the group through a difficult project.

Creative problem solving ability. When some people face a problem they try and find a solution. Creative problem solvers ask themselves why the problem exists in the first place and what can be changed to prevent it in the future. Sometimes the best solutions to a problem are preventative. Adopt this kind of thinking and be prepared to explain how the way you approach challenges in the workplace is different than most people.