Hiring for AP – Key traits to look for
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Hiring for AP – Key traits to look for
Hiring new employees is not always the easiest or most desirable part of our roles as senior staff; however, it can be very rewarding to set yourself up as a mentor and key strategist for your team and organization. Over the years, we’ve had many staff across a number of different roles, and we have learned a few key takeaways for hiring for AP:
- Technology and experience trump a large, low-cost staff
- The ability to effectively communicate goes a long way during a job interview and beyond
- Additional credentials beyond degrees show ambition as well as competence
In 2009, as a startup company experiencing exponential growth, we had to ramp up our staffing levels quickly in order to handle our ever-expanding volume of data. The natural solution was to throw bodies at the problem until it was taken care of; in hindsight, this was mistake. We weren’t addressing the core issue by adopting the mantra of “work smarter, not harder”.
Ultimately, we pared our team down, then focused on hiring skilled technical programming experts; this allowed us to streamline our data flow, greatly reduced errors during processing, and doubled the amount of data that could be processed – all with a smaller, more efficient team.
In an average AP department, how many additional value-add projects could your staff be doing instead of opening envelopes, manually keying invoice amounts, GL coding, scanning paper documents, or waiting for another department supervisor to approve an expenditure? The adoption of technology, especially with the goal of automation, in accounts payable creates efficiencies and frees up your staff for more vital tasks, while running simple, repetitive reports in the background and monitoring the statuses of invoices and approvals. Consider hiring staff that are receptive to implementing these new technologies and are prone to going the extra mile to make future tasks as automated and streamlined as possible.
While in the hiring position, a common question to ask yourself is “Would I like to work with this person every day for the next 5+ years?” I find that communication skills are immensely valuable. The staff that I have hired in the past have had a variety of experience, often in industries that I am unfamiliar with. One way I try to gauge their communication skills is to ask them to explain something technical to me; for example, if they were a recent graduate, I ask them to describe in detail a major project they worked on. Given the significant amount of time they spent on the project, they should be able to demonstrate relative technical competence.
Also important is the extent of their ability to break down the technical concepts and explain them in a way that someone with no prior relevant knowledge would be able to understand. Ideal employees should be able to communicate complicated and difficult concepts to clients and fellow employees with as little ambiguity or confusion as possible.
I’m a fan of credentials (there are no fewer than 14 letters after my name). Credentials demonstrate competence and experience above and beyond the ordinary. During the hiring process, candidates that have the credentials I’m looking for tend to remain at the top of the applicant pool. It’s always interesting to talk through credentials, discuss the process of earning them, usefulness and applicability to their field, and recommendations for others looking to pursue.
CPA (Certified Public Accountant) tends to be regarded as the ultimate credential, though others can be as advantageous, such as FP&A, awarded by the Association for Financial Professionals. Credentials not only demonstrate competency but also the drive for career advancement; they’re often a good differentiator between the 9-to-5 candidates the one that will evangelize the organization as a visionary in operations.
Hiring can be a daunting task, especially when it interferes with your regular managerial duties. The prospect of growth is a positive indicator and a good reminder that you’re on the right path for a successful business. Hopefully the process goes smoothly for you, and always remember to check those references.