CFOs are acutely aware of the shortage of young talent in the finance industry and the problem is compounded by soaring demand analytic capabilities combined with “soft” skills.

If finance departments were looking solely for the technical skills they wanted years ago, they would be overwhelmed with candidates. Today, though, such skills are table stakes, and the focus is on finding people who stand out because they have other desired qualities as well.

For one, given companies’ increasing reliance on data in decision-making, demand is soaring for a demonstrated aptitude for analytics. Even more important for the long-term success of new hires, however, are assorted “soft” skills that allow them to communicate and collaborate with others, as well as influence others’ attitudes and behaviours.

Given this shortage, finance departments are aggressively positioning themselves as employers of choice. And they can’t allow themselves the luxury of easing up on that quest, since their competitors are doing the same thing.

Many companies that are successfully hiring young candidates with prowess in analytics are looking beyond traditional sources like business schools and accounting firms, according to a talent research and advisory firm.

As important as analytics and technical capabilities are, various soft skills are valued just as much, if not more. The demand for people with effective communication skills is increasing dramatically because the role of some finance staffers is changing.

“A candidate who puts together spreadsheets and exports data for charts is very different from someone who can stand in front of the sales leadership team and challenge their decisions,” says Joel Bernstein, CFO of global customer operations for SAP.

Being a good communicator is based in part on persuasion skills, and, especially for young finance professionals, on understanding the language of finance.

Collaboration skills are closely tied to communication skills, and are also hot in today’s business environment. It’s important for companies to ask finance candidates to give examples of how they’ve contributed to a team and to pay close attention to the responses.

Other soft skills that will help entry-level finance professionals succeed—and that corporate recruiters should look for—include the following:

  • * An understanding of the difference between management and leadership. In other words, an awareness of the necessary balance between delivering on short-term tactical needs and committing to deliver on a simply articulated vision.
  • * Flexibility. Business conditions are always in flux, so employers want people who aren’t rigid in their thinking.
  • * The ability to draw inferences from data. There’s so much of it available today that sensing what’s reasonable to infer is becoming a critical skill.
  • * An understanding of ethics as it applies to all aspects of work. 
  • The ability to engage with others both face-to-face and virtually.