What It Takes To Be A Senior In-House Accountant
Vital Skill Sets For Higher Level Financial Jobs
By Mark Swartz
Monster Senior Contributing Writer
Are you thinking of moving your career ahead as a senior in-house accountant? It could be that the lure of being Controller calls out to you. Or you’re a Chief Financial Officer hankering for the COO office.
Better take a moment to review the calculations first. Do you bring with you the most important assets required to succeed at these levels today? Not an intricate knowledge of SOX (though familiarity doesn’t hurt), nor every in and out of IFRS.
Words Of Advice From Two Senior In-House Accountants
We had great conversations about this with two senior in-house accountants.
Hanspal Jando is the Financial Controller at Lindt & Sprüngli, better known as the Lindt chocolate people. He has been in his role for 18 months. Hanspal was placed in this job by Lannick Recruitment.
Monster: Tell us about a skill set you have had to acquire or develop in order to succeed in your current job.
Hanspal Jando: As I’ve progressed, the scope of work has changed. It’s become less technical for me. I spend less time now dealing with the actual numbers, more on how to support my team and the company overall, to get to that next level. Being strategic is key.
Howard Cadesky: People skills at a senior lever may well be the most important competency. I have over 100 people reporting to me either directly or dotted line. Creating relationships is a large part of what I do. My job could not be done effectively without the support of upper management, or the people that report to me, in conjunction with other departments internally. Then there are the external liaisons I have with banks, lawyers, vendors…all must be treated respectfully and fairly.
Monster: How do you go about improving the skill set you mentioned about?
Hanspal Jando: To work on being more strategic, I have had to actually experiment with letting go increasingly of the daily small stuff. Having faith in my excellent staff plays a major role. Believing in myself is the other factor. It has taken me a while to convince myself that I am more valued for my broader, business-impacting ideas, than for the technical accounting skills that helped me get to this level in the first place.
Howard Cadesky: To become better at building relationships, I ensure that I meet with my people on a regular basis. I strive to be a good listener. This helps me to better appreciate their actual needs. It is vital for me to convey that I am on their side, that we have corresponding goals that can be better met by working together instead of viewing me as a possible bottleneck.
Monster: What does each of you mean when you talk about the importance of self-confidence?
Hanspal Jando: As a senior accountant, you must have enough self-assurance to be transparent in your role. You and your department will get exposed to criticism (since nobody is perfect). You are going to have to defend yourself, and stand up for your team, when challenged. To do this means you can’t be pointing fingers or making excuses. I think it helps that I began my career as an Accounts Payable clerk. We were constantly being blamed by other parts of the business for their own errors. We learned how to push back sensibly, and point out what we did right and what they did not.
Howard Cadesky: I am expected to advise senior management on important strategic decisions. Large amounts of money are at stake. Therefore my own confidence in the recommendations I make must be bulletproof. How do I ensure that this is the case? I make certain that I have discussed the issue with all relevant stakeholders, and that I consider their input. Also, my success - and that of the organization - is assured by hiring the best people possible with the skill sets to perform at a high level. I hire people who can replace me one day.
Monster: You have each pointed out the importance of engendering trust. How does this fit into your role as a senior in-house accountant?
Hanspal Jando: If the people I rely on don’t trust me, if they don’t see me as dependable and supportive of them, they can get demotivated. They are less likely to go the extra mile for me.
Howard Cadesky: The ability to provide meaningful financial information and input is very much based on trust. You must be able to ‘bring the numbers to life’ and make your audience smarter, not just happy or sad.
Monster: What has worked for you with regard to building this all-important trust?
Hanspal Jando: Once you help people, and you show that you know what you’re talking about, and if you can for example develop new processes, build in improvements from suggestions the staff made, and help them look good, everyone comes out ahead. Creating small victories for the team early on can make a lasting difference.
Howard Cadesky: I hold regular meetings with people, both in groups and one-on-one. The way I often start is by asking what their issues and challenges are. Over time I have demonstrated my willingness to follow-up and assist them in finding solutions. This applies as much to business concerns as it does to important personal matters. If you help build a respectful environment where people can rely on one another, they will open up, share, and work with you. That goes for relationships at every level: peers, bosses, direct reports, external connections.
Monster: How do you make the people you report to more confident in you?
Hanspal Jando: I make a conscious effort to expand my understanding of how things work here. I speak to other senior people and middle managers. Their insights are so valuable. Also I arranged to be mentored by someone in my organization. By providing me with honest, timely feedback, they give me terrific advice on dealing with senior level issues, as well as how to maintain my profile internally. It was quite a time investment for both me and my mentor, but within a few months the effects began to be evident.
Howard Cadesky: This takes us back to creating bulletproof recommendations. What I attempt to do is make my reasoning sound and obvious. The facts are nailed down tight. And I anticipate questions so that I avoid getting caught without answers. This requires research and input from different people. You must determine what you don’t know. Then you can go get answers to all the potential questions, not just those you come up with yourself.
Monster: Thank you Hanspal and Howard for your insights. What other pieces of advice would you give to accountants who are thinking of moving into higher level jobs in-house?
Hanspal Jando: When I apply for a new job, I try to be completely honest when I describe my goals, abilities and wants. I spell out the areas I want to get exposure to. This way they know what they are getting.
Howard Cadesky: To begin with, you have to walk the talk. It takes time to build up a track record as you make changes to systems and teams.