There are a lot of finance professionals who work hard and have relevant qualifications, but don’t get recognition.
One of the common mistakes they make is focusing too much on technical skills.
In an interview powered by Finance Mentor Box – a marketplace for finance mentors, Wassia Kamon sheds light on some common career mistakes finance professionals make.
She is a CPA, Vice President for Finance & Accounting at ACM Chemistries Inc., and a career strategist.
Should people in the finance field do internships during their graduation? Why is it important for their career?
WK: You should start doing an internship as soon as possible. At this stage of your career, it doesn’t necessarily have to be about money. You need to have a good idea of what it’s like to be in that profession.
I interned at a CPA firm where I did taxes, and at PwC where I did audits. Being in that space made me realize that I enjoyed the work of accounting and finance.
If you don’t have this kind of opportunity, you should connect with somebody in your field and have those conversations as early as you can.
I wish there was something like LinkedIn when I started my career. It is a great platform for finding mentors, and career coaches.
Nowadays you can connect with people from different parts of the world, and ask people from other companies, “What does your typical day, week or month look like?” to get an idea of where you want to go in your career.
How has the finance function evolved from when you were an intern to now a VP for Finance and Accounting?
WK: When I started in corporate accounting in 2009, I was a staff accountant, billing customers. Now a lot of those processes are automated. In fact, a lot of the work that I was doing, has become automated.
The same thing has happened with accounts payable (AP) and tax returns. Look at software like TurboTax, it’s like a bot, doing your tax returns.
Does this mean an accountant’s job is in jeopardy? No, they are not. In my opinion, it’s changing, it’s evolving.
With all the manual and repetitive processes being taken over by technology, all that is left to do is business partners.
Now we have to move to the analytical part of our work. It’s about how you bring strategic thinking in place to add that value to the organization as a whole.
You have to bring more to the table in terms of analysis; beyond just saying that revenue was $10 mn, you have to identify “What does it mean?” “Does that mean we are in trouble?” “What other things in the business should we look at beyond just numbers?”
There are a lot of hardworking finance professionals who have the necessary qualifications but do not get recognition. What mistakes are they making?
WK: Some of the common mistakes people make in our profession are, focusing too much on certifications, and technical skills, such as Excel, IFRS, and GAAP.
We don’t spend enough time developing soft skills and personal brands. And these two have been proven to be the main differentiators when you are trying to get hired, get promoted, or have an impactful role in your company.
When applying for a role, you have to understand that there are hundreds of CPAs trying out for the same. Because of that, the CPA qualification alone is not going to set you apart from the competition. What special skill do you have that will make the company hire you?
The same thing happens internally. You are working with other accountants, and probably have the same responsibilities, so why would you be promoted over somebody else?
It’s not the degrees and the certifications that will help you in this case. There is something more besides having knowledge of accounting, excel. It’s who you are as a person, and what you bring to the table.
It’s very important to understand this aspect, which has helped me as well in my career.
I had a great boss, who was also a coach and a mentor to me. She told me, “I know you are a CPA, it’s great. But the problem is that as you climb the corporate ladder, it is not going to be about what the latest changes in IFRS or GAAP are, it’s going to be about people.
Are you building relationships outside your department and also your leadership skills? When people come and meet you, what is the vibe they get? Do they want to work with you? These are going to matter.
Be it the people that hold a position above yours, or your peers, you have to influence them all without having a big title.
Suppose you have been given the responsibility to implement ERP, how do you get people to buy into your vision? These skills are not covered in the CMA, CPA exams, or during your B. Com… You have to intentionally develop them.
What soft skills should entry-level, mid-level, and senior-level finance professionals have?
WK: There are plenty of soft skills that are going to help you.
One of them is curiosity: You have to be open-minded. You’d want to learn things beyond your work. If you have that habit, it’ll be more natural for you to connect with others.
It would become easier for you to listen to understand, learn and grow, and not just listen to respond.
The second most important skill is empathy: It doesn’t matter if you are an entrant, a mid-level employee or on a leadership level, you have to be able to build trust. People trust you when they know you understand them and that’s something you achieve with empathy.
That is why being able to see things from the other person’s perspective is crucial.
Last but not least, communication skills: Again, no matter at what level you are in your organization, you need to have good communication skills. It’s about how you stay away from jargon and break down different concepts for people. It makes a big difference.
Whether you are presenting in front of board members or trying to get a marketing manager to understand what’s going on in the budget, you have to relate to them. For that people skills are important.
The sooner you understand that those skills will help you in your career as you grow, the better.
How should one prepare the CV so that their full potential is showcased to the recruiter?
WK: As far as your resume or cover letter is concerned, it’s all part of your personal brand.
You can add “Good communications skills” in your resume’s skills sections. But as one of your key accomplishments, you should add how those communication skills helped you in your career.
Other applicants may have the same ‘Good communication skills’ added to their resume, but that’s not enough, you have to highlight it through your accomplishments.
If I were to add ‘Coordinated cross-functional projects,’ in my resume, it would mean that my communication skills were able to get others to buy into this project. Because of that, I was able to generate a certain amount of savings for my organization.
Before going for the interview, you need to figure out, what problem that company is going to solve by bringing you in. Highlight the fact that how you are a solution to that problem in your resume, otherwise, it would look bland.
Building a personal brand may seem daunting for some accounting professionals. How should they go about it?
WK: We think that personal branding is only for entrepreneurs, people in marketing, or influencers. The fact is, everybody has personal branding, whether you are conscious of it or not.
Jeff Bezos gave the best definition, “Personal brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room.”
The core of personal branding lies at the intersection of what you want to be known for, what you are good at, and what people need.
If you are good at project management, how would they know that you are the go-to person when it comes to project management? Personal branding is not defined by your online efforts, it’s your offline efforts.
Even if you don’t have a goal to be a CFO, you don’t want to be overlooked or undervalued. Personal branding helps you when you want to ask for a raise.
But why would they give you a raise? What is your value-add to the organization? Don’t assume that your managers are aware of your talent. They are struggling with their work.
If you are good at something make sure your manager, the people working around you, or with you, know about it.
Focus on soft skills and personal brand because these two are going to set you up for success no matter where you go.