I’ve had the opportunity to be on both sides of the table – as an interviewee and as an interviewer for financial roles – which provided useful perspective on what makes a candidate a great fit for a particular role.
Besides sector knowledge and basic skills like team work, here are 4 technical (and in my view, foundational) skills commonly taken for granted even at a managerial level for a career in finance.
Borrowing a quote from a certain leading consultancy firm: “Aim to make your boss look good”. Simple, isn’t it? Why wouldn’t anyone want to hire someone that can make him/herself look good?
Here’s what I find valuable in terms of technical skill sets for a junior member in finance (both for the team member and his/her manager):
#1. Database skills
As a financial analyst, the ability to obtain and evaluate data to answer your client’s problem is key. There is a huge range of databases utlized today, such as Bloomberg, Factset, Reuters, Merger Market, where investing some time learning the coding syntax can help save time and minimize errors in the long run.
In larger firms, it’s often that some databases can only be accessed by library / support staff, so do make sure you know them by name (extremely helpful for deadlines!) and also ask for their help to teach you the basics so you learn how to obtain such information yourself in the future. Knowledge is power, after all.
The good news is these are not rocket science, and are tangible skills you can list in your CV. When I switched from capital markets to investment banking, my Bloomberg skills was sought after as a junior because no one in investment banking really knew how to operate the system since they don’t use it daily. Result!
- If you’re looking for an introduction to Bloomberg terminals, you could consider taking the Bloomberg Market Concepts course that we’ve written about here.
- If you have access to a Bloomberg terminal, you can also use CFAPRO while preparing for your CFA exam.
Organising information in databases is key, and to do it well you need to have excellent Excel skills.
#2. Excel modelling skills
So what does this mean really? How do you know if someone is a messy person in life? Just look at what their Excel models look like. Traceability is crucial, the ability for other team members to use and understand your model with ease.
How do you achieve traceability in your Excel work? Here are some things to consider:
- Formatting – how tidy does your Excel sheet look? Literally, is it beautiful and easy on the eye showing only the necessary information? Do you make use of reasonable colour coding to indicate whether a cell is linked from other sheet, a hardcoded input, or a formula output? Do you leave short notes or instructions to ease traceability?
- Formula – is your calculation approach straightforward, linked and easy to follow when checked? Does your whole sheet automatically update upon changes to inputs? Automation is the name of the game here that makes your life easier as an analyst, but it only helps your case and saves time if your manager can follow your trail of thought and methods easily. Despite automation, you should always sense check your numbers and make sure your model makes sense. That’s where your value comes in.
- Complexity – is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s important to build for what you need though. Sometimes a simpler, semi-manual model is useful enough for the task at hand without the need to invest time to make everything super automated and lovely. You’re the judge of this and whether it’s good enough to get the job done. A good gauge is if your Excel model is slow (meaning takes longer than 3 seconds to refresh once an input is changed), it’s probably a little too complex and prone to crashing – totally unnecessary 80% of the time.
Normally one can judge how good an analyst is by his/her Excel model setup. So once you’ve the skills to gather the right data, build a simple model to crunch the numbers in an attempt to answer the question. The next part is presenting your findings in slides in a straightforward manner, this is usually more difficult than it sounds.
#3. Powerpoint skills
You’re probably familiar with the phrase “death by Powerpoint”. I find that this is sometimes the case, but only because people forget the purpose of having Powerpoint slides. They assume giving a presentation is all about cramming all sorts of data in there for backup and people will read every single line before a meeting. That’s rarely the case. Unfortunately I’ve worked long enough in finance to know that 100 pagers will never be read by your client, only the first 5 pages demonstrating the succinct points of your meeting.
Just like annual reports, slide decks have grown in thickness over the years, many times I’ve seen 100+ pages of presentation sent to a client, filled with tons of charts/data that never will be appreciated. Many recognised this problem but the tendency in finance is to have a few pages summarizing what’s what upfront, with a giant appendix containing all the backup analysis to cover ones ass in a meeting.
I get that sometimes it’s out of your control and it depends on the style/approach of your bosses, but knowing how to present complex information in easy-to-digest charts or visuals that you or your team can present to is a powerful skill. Attention span is short: you need to pique your client’s interest in the first 5 minutes to really present a good argument
#4. Communication skills
You’ve done the analysis and prepared the Powerpoint slides. Are the slides’ titles coherent and consistent to the story and argument you’re building? What are the three core messages you want your listeners (boss/client) to take home? What is your team’s feedback?
This is normally the most fulfilling (and sometimes frustrating) part of your work – the debates and discussion in the context of how you approach a particular question/problem would give you an idea of how solid your assumptions and approach has been. This skill is usually the toughest to master, but with practice, anyone can become a natural. Presenting your viewpoints succinctly whilst keeping your listeners engaged is not easy, but helps in every aspect of your career, especially interviews.
What has been your experience so far? What is your strongest skill set? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.