The skills to look for when appointing in 2013

This may seems like an easy job, but in these times, the skills that employers need to look for have somewhat evolved

The public sector is in a state of enormous upheaval. We are experiencing the deepest cuts to public spending in living memory, alongside significant public sector reforms in areas like health, education and local government.

The economy is showing no signs of growth, both the public and private sector are making staff redundant to operate more leanly and there seems to be no fast way out of this recession. In this climate, employers are faced with selecting candidates from a large pool of applicants for a limited number of positions. At a glance, it seems that this is an easy job for employers, however, in a changing workplace landscape, the skills that employers need to look for have somewhat evolved.

All of this means that employers now need to have a broader understanding of the roles which they are recruiting for; for example, many public sector workers need to be knowledgeable about finance even if they are not accountants.

The finance professional needs to be a different type of candidate in 2013 and employers should tighten their job specifications in order to make successful appointments in order for their organisation to stay ahead of the curve.

This article will look at the necessary skills an employer should look for when hiring in 2013.

Although flexibility is important in any job, it becomes even more important when hiring a candidate to work within an already stretched workforce. Employers should look for candidates who demonstrate that they can adapt to change, manage responsibility and quickly become a vital part of any team from day one. Now that big finance departments are a thing of the past, employers should seek candidates that can demonstrate that they can work in these new, more efficient environments.    

As further budget cuts can’t be ruled out of the foreseeable future, the prospect of more streamlined environments brings with it the need to have better managed information in order to help monitor the use of public resources and improve decision-making. With efficiency and value for money becoming top priorities in the public sector, it is important for employers to look for staff, even those in non-finance roles, who have an understanding of the finance function of their organisation, especially those staff in managerial roles.

The next necessary skill to look for is a candidate’s ability to communicate. It has already been mentioned how the public sector is becoming more like the private sector and adopting more of a business ethos. Public sector employers need to take on candidates who are able to adopt this mind-set and become more customer focused. In the finance function especially, accountants need to be seen not just as accountants but also as business advisors and employers should look for this ability when interviewing applicants.

In this vein, across the public sector a priority has become better joint working. For joint working to be successful, employers should look for candidates who are able to present information in a way that is understandable outside of the finance department and throughout the organisation. This skill is especially important for the finance function, where complicated financial information, pages of figures and acronyms may be baffling. Candidates who are capable of demonstrating business acumen by presenting this information and presenting so that it can be used for business purposes as opposed to just the simple regurgitation of figures, are worth their weight in gold. Candidates who possess this skill will be able to inform better management information and decision-making, adding value and insight for decision makers and making the organisation run more smoothly and effectively.

No ‘essential skills’ piece would be complete without discussing some of the important things to keep in mind when interviewing. Firstly, look for candidates who have properly prepared, this should be evident from the fact that a candidate provides thoughtful responses; a candidate who has thoroughly prepared, has learnt as much as possible about the role, the organisation and the interviewers shows enthusiasm, dedication and diligence.

Employers should also note how presentable an applicant is, both in their appearance and manner – this is a good indication of how well they will fit into the organisation, gel with the team and be committed to their role at the organisation. Each organisation, in both the private and public sector, will have an ethos and vision for its future; interviewers need to make certain that candidates have grasped an understanding of this and will be committed to working towards it.

Finally and less obviously, interviewers should look for individuals who are confident enough to be able to identify potential obstacles they may face and suggest how they would overcome them. For example, if the applicant is moving from the public sector to the private sector then, for a good accountant, the switch to IFRS should not be an obstacle and it should not be made one. A strong candidate will embrace this challenge as an opportunity and identifying this skill will help employers sort the great candidates from the good.

In interviews it is crucial to identify ability. However, as has been mentioned, in a more challenging environment these required abilities are constantly changing. As the public sector becomes more business focused, competition will begin to drive decisions and contracts will increasingly be outsourced. Procurement, commissioning and contract management are fast becoming new skills that need to be understood by public sector staff; these skills may not have previously been on interviewers’ radars but certainly should be to ensure an appointment that helps build a successful, commercial future for the organisation.


Beyond commissioning arrangements with the private sector, increased joint working between government agencies is also being driven by a desire for more streamlined working and less ‘isolation’. All of these new arrangements will require a candidate who is a strong negotiator and communicator.

As increasingly projects are not managed ‘in house’ but between different agencies or organisations, employers should look for applicants that possess enhanced leadership skills and will effectively manage different projects and teams. Their leadership capabilities will need to be innovative too in order to respond to further budget cuts and to ensure that services are maintained and delivered as effectively and efficiently as possible. Cost-savings, productivity improvements and process improvements can only be driven through innovative leadership and all of these things are required in modern organisations, especially in the public sector.

When appointing more senior level candidates, employers must be keen to ensure that there will be as little disruption as possible to day‑to-day operations and that the appointed individual will hit the ground running. Candidates can no longer afford to have a ‘settling in period’ and need to demonstrate value from the start. At interview, look for a candidate with a track record of delivering results, and place a lot more emphasis on their ability to respond to or manage projects alongside balancing reducing resources.

At interview, employers should look for the applicant who is aware of emerging trends and legislation affecting key fields and generally stays abreast of key issues as well as having an understanding of how they will affect their organisations. Employers should look for an appointment that is up to date with their key skills and is continuing their own professional and personal development. It is the individual’s responsibility, not the employers, to make sure that employees are gaining the necessary skills to improve; in this competitive job market, candidates should be investing in their own training opportunities to stay ahead.

Finally, a candidate who takes advantage of networking opportunities is a valuable commodity. The landscape here is changing dramatically and will continue to do so. These connections can help to improve understanding of the industry and what is going on. What’s more, they can provide useful contacts that may become new business partnerships. Furthermore, people in the same industry are usually just as interested in making new connections; therefore harnessing a candidate’s networking skills is a great way to get your organisation’s name and message known in the industry.

This is not a set in stone guide and with the pace of change, especially in public services, I have no doubt that the skills employers should seek will continue to change. However, a lot of the advice in here can be applied across the public sector, private sector and beyond. Hopefully, having read it, when you next look to fill a position, you will feel better equipped to assess candidates and decide the best fit for your organisation.

Further information