A career in finance requires strong financial technical skills and experience.
A truly successful career in finance requires strong complementary non-financial skills.
While this post focuses on finance, the need to develop complementary expertise applies in almost any industry or job. As you advance in any job, the technical component lessens and the soft skills become more important.
If you want long-term career success, strengthen your non-technical skills.
Investopedia examines the “Top 7 Non-Financial Skills Required In Finance” . Well worth a read and I want to add a few comments. These recommendations also dovetail nicely with a Chief Financial Officer survey as to real skills sought by companies .
Yes, you need to crunch numbers. But a large part of any finance job is to effectively communicate results, ideas, etc., with clients, third parties, co-workers, and senior management.
Most communication these days is via email or memos. There is nothing worse than reading illiterate, rambling, poorly thought out, writing.
As you advance, you will also need to make presentations in a variety of scenarios. One on one, small groups, large forums. Each format requires slightly different techniques, so it is important to handle all types.
If you want to leave a poor impression in your superior’s mind, do not improve your communication skills.
It is important to effectively deal with others.
My first controllership position provides a great example. My predecessor was cleaning out his stuff my first day. As he pulled down one book, he tossed it to me and said it would be the most important text I would need in the job. I figured it was a tax, finance, accounting, oil and gas, etc., text book. But it was a psychology text from university. And he was right.
In university and articling as a Chartered Accountant, I learned the technical skills. But no one taught me the relationship-management side. Here you are at 25, dealing with staff going through major personal problems, having to lay-off employees during down-turns, mediating conflicts between co-workers, and so on. And that side of the business world can take up as much, if not more, time as the technical work.
Marketing and Sales Skills
I would add that every job requires marketing and sales skills.
You need to market yourself to climb the corporate ladder. You want budget funds for a project, you need to sell your proposal. The list goes on and on.
When I ran a small oil company, every day involved presentations and investor relations to raise money for capital acquisitions and expansion. Without being able to effectively market the business, there would have been no funding.
Project Management Ability, Organizational Skills and Attention to Detail
Kind of a catch all for all points.
Professionalism is crucial.
Yes, yes, yes.
So many employees can tell you why something cannot or should not be done. Inertia is always a safe path.
Very few employees step up and provide creative solutions that solve problems. If you can become someone perceived as a problem solver, you will be highly valued in your company.
Another obvious one.
Most jobs in any field have time constraints attached. Everything needs to be completed yesterday. The better your technological skills, the faster you can perform many tasks.
Also, I think we are still in a transitional phase technology wise. A lot of older managers do not have the skills in newer technology. If you can work pivot tables, databases, and the like, older finance managers will want you on their teams.
Tenacity and Ethics
A good point to remember. Competitiveness is different from tenacity.
Employers love staff who will go the extra mile to get the job done efficiently and effectively.
Employers tend not to love staff who stab others in the back, then climb over the corpses.
How Does One Develop These Skills?
Starting out in the work world, how do you develop some of these non-financial skills?
Skip the basket weaving electives in school. Take courses that will develop some of these necessary non-financial skills instead. Communication, marketing, computer, and so on.
Consider industry specific courses  if you know where you will be working. For example, if you live in Western Canada, natural resource companies are everywhere. Whether you are a marketing, finance, human resources, accounting, etc., major, there is a high probability that you will work directly or indirectly for a natural resource company. Knowing a bit about the industry will aid your core technical training.
Extracurricular activities can develop complementary skills. Toastmasters, debating clubs, the school newspaper, are just a few ways to strengthen communication skills. Volunteering at a crisis centre or seniors’ community could improve relationship-management expertise. Working for a service organization (e.g., Rotary) will develop experience working on projects and the related budgeting, organizational skills, and professionalism.
Engage in activities that demonstrate you have the ability to succeed under tough conditions. Training for a marathon, learning a new language, starting a small business as summer employment. Anything that shows you took on a challenge, worked hard, and succeeded.
I summarize a few additional thoughts in “Get Busy on Your Future Today” .
The higher you progress in your career, the less important the technical side and the more important the soft skills. Begin to develop complementary skills now. It will pay off over time.