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Career Changes During the Pandemic

By Paul McDonald
January 1, 2021
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Shifting priorities during the global pandemic provide new job opportunities for finance professionals equipped to adapt to change.

 

We’re living through a period of immense economic uncertainty as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to play out. In times like these, it might seem cavalier for finance professionals to think about making career moves, especially when many people have lost or are at risk of losing their jobs. And yet, in many ways, this is an opportune time to consider a change.

 

Businesses are rethinking how they work and are reorganizing, so they’re eager to bring in people with new ideas. If you have the right skills—and the confidence to market them—there’s no reason why you shouldn’t position yourself to move up the ladder.

 

But before you start refreshing your résumé and contacting a recruiting firm, here are a few things you need to know about the current job market for finance and accounting roles.

 

There are opportunities at all levels. The first wave of the pandemic caused a slowdown in hiring among finance executives, as many senior leaders decided to stay and help steady the ship. Yet leaders at all levels will continue to move up or move on as economic conditions stabilize, creating vacancies within the hierarchy and ample opportunities for highly skilled candidates.

 

Remote working means a broader search. One takeaway from the global pandemic: Remote working works. Most teams did fine when they had to transition to a virtual workplace, and 60% of workers surveyed by Robert Half said remote working improved their work-life balance. Companies also adapted to remote hiring processes, with 61% advertising fully remote jobs during the pandemic and 75% conducting online interviews and onboarding.

 

For job seekers at any level, this is a huge boost to your prospects. Your geographical location—and that of job openings—are of much less concern when you can interview, get hired, and log in to work each day from your home office.

 

Salaries are stable or growing. Data for Robert Half’s Accounting & Finance Salary Guide 2021 was compiled after the first wave of the pandemic, when the economy had taken its biggest hit. Despite the economic downturn, the figures show average starting salaries have remained stable or even climbed slightly higher compared to the year before. The following are examples of midpoint starting salaries in corporate accounting (note that these are U.S. national averages):

  • Chief financial officer: $203,750
  • Divisional controller: $147,250
  • Senior accountant: $81,000
  • Financial analyst (one to three years of experience): $69,500

 

Although many companies have instituted hiring and pay freezes, there’s still a lot of competition for top-tier talent. In fact, a recent Robert Half survey found that 36% of employers are more willing to negotiate on starting salaries now than they were a year ago.

 

Finance leaders face new challenges. Finance professionals face a whole new set of challenges, not just because of the pandemic, but also due to an incoming wave of digital transformation. The following are some areas you should focus on:

  • Data analytics. Forty-two percent of companies are using advanced data analytics in the finance function, with a further 27% planning to adopt analytics over the next five years. Finance is a vital source of operational data, and finance professionals play an outsize role in implementing analytics insights.
  • Automation. Businesses are about to witness another wave of digital disruption, driven by the rise in AI and robotic process automation. Finance leaders have to work with the chief information officer to decide where to invest to meet strategic goals.
  • Restructuring. In response to COVID-19, finance leaders will have to make some tough decisions. Markets are shifting, consumer patterns are adapting to the new normal, and businesses will have to rethink their resource allocation.
  • Streamlining. With a slimmed-down, telecommuting workforce, finance leaders will have to find ways to do more with less. This can involve process improvements and adopting more flexible working structures.

 

New skills are required. Finance has changed a lot in recent years. Where it was once reactive, it’s now a very proactive and strategic part of the organization. To succeed in a modern finance leadership role, you need skills such as:

  • Operational resilience. The next couple of years will be dominated by the aftermath of the pandemic. The primary role of the finance department is to ensure business continuity in the face of adversity. You’ll need a cast-iron understanding of risk and compliance issues as they relate to your department.
  • Flexibility. Nobody knows what the post-pandemic future will look like. Your job will be to respond to changes and find innovative ways to thrive in the new business landscape.
  • Emotional intelligence. People skills are essential in a time of uncertainty and vulnerability. They’re also important when trying to build a team that pulls together to achieve goals. Work on developing your emotional intelligence, which will help you get the best from people.
  • Approachability. Staff members need to know you’re on their side, especially if they might be fearing for their jobs. If they know they can come to you with questions and get real answers, they’re more likely to trust you and the direction the company is going. This applies even if the answer is “We aren’t sure yet,” as it might frequently be while the business landscape remains in a state of flux, at least potentially. An honest, approachable boss can help people stay focused and positive and even act as a retention aid.

 

Leading a transformed workforce. As we’ve seen, many people have transitioned to remote work and won’t be transitioning back fully. For finance professionals, this throws up fresh challenges that arise from collaborating with a far-flung team.

 

And transformation doesn’t stop there. As AI becomes more common in finance departments, we’re likely to move toward symbiotic computing, in which humans and AI work in partnership. Look to develop your knowledge in these areas as soon as possible since you may find yourself collaborating with AI sooner than you think.

 

Most industries are navigating uncharted terrain right now, and no profession is insulated from the resulting uncertainties. But finance professionals are likely to play a crucial role in guiding companies to a position where they can survive and thrive.

 

Some people might choose this moment to stay put and help their current employer overcome the challenges of the pandemic. But if you’re someone who’s seeking a new or different challenge, there are opportunities to be found even amid this crisis.

 

Paul McDonald is senior executive director at Robert Half and an IMA® member. You can follow him on LinkedIn.
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