EQ or IQ? What’s more important for a successful finance career?

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Getting the right fit for a strategic finance job requires more than just the ability to evaluate technical skills. In a recent article in The Age, Economic editor Ross Gittins declared he had ‘decided an extra unit of EQ - emotional intelligence - is worth a lot more than an extra unit of IQ.’ He went on to say that if a genie appeared from a bottle, that's what he’d ask for.

He’s certainly not alone. More and more CFOs and CEOs are also seeking that extra unit of EQ in their next finance hire. 

Why EQ matters

EQ measures a person’s ability to identify, use, understand and manage their emotions in a positive way. We’re seeing organisations shift their focus from just the technical capabilities of a candidate to their ability to fit in with the corporate culture and successfully work in and across teams. Post GFC there was a strong focus on technical skills, but now we’re seeing the pendulum swing back in favour of a balance of Intellectual Intelligence (IQ) and Emotional Intelligence (EQ) in candidates.

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What CFOs want

Across the board, clients are telling us that they want finance professionals who can communicate effectively with a range of stakeholders. Questions they ask when considering a candidate include: “How well will this person present in front of an MD? Can they work effectively with people at different levels? Will they have the cultural sensitivity to work with international stakeholders?” In addition, tougher operating conditions for many Australian companies mean organisations need professionals who are empathetic, self-reliant and resilient to change, people who can diffuse conflict and overcome challenges. Each of these attributes brings additional value to a business. Proactivity is also a big draw card. We’re seeing more organisations search for people who can not only answer questions but who seek out opportunities to come up with creative business solutions.

The finance career of the future  

As the global business environment becomes more competitive, finance departments are looking beyond the traditional finance skill set to hire staff with future management potential – those who are able to explain programs and concepts to people with little or no finance knowledge.

It makes sense because mid-level finance roles have changed a lot in the last five years. Much of the number crunching and report compiling traditionally the focus in financial accounting, management accountant and business analyst roles is now automated. Increasingly these jobs are about educating the business on what financial reports mean and how individual business units can use this information to improve their performance. This means finance professionals at all levels must be able to talk with multiple stakeholders and present to project groups and management teams. When many financial accountants started their careers, the CFO or financial controller was probably the only person with these responsibilities. Today more and more CFOs expect their whole team to be “client facing.” 

Demonstrating the right balance

If you’re in a mid-level finance position and aiming for a management role in 10 years’ time, you will need to go beyond your accounting and finance skills to develop a broader skill set to position yourself well for this career path. Developing the respect and trust of those around you is now pivotal in growing your career. Ask yourself, how can I become a trusted adviser to the business I work for? Then set about improving the skills you need to achieve this.

The list is different for every individual candidate, but these tips are a good place to start:

1. Seek opportunities to demonstrate that you can add value within the business by getting actively involved in a diverse range of projects. It’s important to be able to show your achievements beyond delivering accurate and timely work.

2. Get as much practice as you can attending meetings or contributing to team initiatives. Many finance professionals see themselves as introverts and don’t want to ‘put themselves out there.’ In reality introverts are often excellent communicators because they are good listeners – the most important attribute for empathising well with others.

3. Bolster the skills that are holding you back. Instead of adding another technical degree or certification to your resume, think about developing the soft skills that will boost your EQ.

4. Go beyond the numbers to think about the impact your work has on different aspects of the business and the people who do those jobs. What insights can you give the sales team to help them sell more or make more profitable sales? If you think and communicate from a broader commercial perspective, you’ll soon get the attention of management.

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