Many employers are having trouble finding strong candidates for jobs vacated by retiring baby boomers. The jobs require, on average, more than seven years of experience, and some employers can't fathom replacing an employee who may have 20-plus years of experience in the field with someone who has only five. If your financial-career goals include a big paycheck and the prestige of working for a high-profile Wall Street firm, then you'll need to learn how to meet employers' expectations.

The positions that some financial recruiters have identified as the hardest and most competitive to fill include controllers (including hedge fund controllers), tax managers, fund and senior-level accountants and valuation analysts. Let's explore the responsibilities of each of these positions as well as what employers are looking for in potential candidates for these roles.

1. Controllers

Controllers keep the company's financial planning, debt financing and budget management organized. They set financial rules, including choosing accounting methods and making sure that generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) are followed. Controllers work for banks, corporations and governments. They motivate their teams from time to time and make sure they produce quality work within set time periods.

A controller's education requires a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree with a concentration in finance or accounting. It also requires a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation. Further, most employers like controller job candidates to have five to 10 years of experience in senior-level finance or accounting positions.

One specialized type of controller is the hedge fund controller. This position is difficult to attain, according to some recruiters, because it requires eight to 10 years of experience working with larger funds. Additionally, the job seeker must have exposure working in distressed debt.

2. Tax Managers

Tax managers oversee tax reporting and planning. They make sure tax returns are completed and accurate in order to reduce the tax obligations of an organization. Tax managers must also ensure that their companies adhere to federal, state, local and international tax laws.

A senior-level tax manager position also calls for a CPA designation and an MBA with a concentration in accounting or taxation.

Most employers prefer at least five years of experience, but senior positions typically require seven years in the field with experience in public and corporate environments. John Gramer, Managing Director of The Mergis Group in New York City, has found that tax managers are hard to recruit because some are adverse to making changes. The key to success, he suggests, is specialization in the field.

3. Fund and Senior-Level Accountants

Accountants examine financial trends, operations and costs. They analyze financial reports to keep a close eye on the state of the organization's assets, liabilities, profits and losses, taxes owed and financial activities.

Managers are looking for people who have accounting degrees in addition to a minimum of two to five years of work experience, and preferably a CPA, but most people aren't meeting these qualifications says Mark Sterling, a spokesman for Manpower.

The most competitive positions in accounting include accountant managers, senior accountants and fund accountant managers of private equity funds, according to recruiters. Some employers want fund accountant managers to have between three and five years of experience with private equity firms, investment banks and hedge funds, explains John Gramer, Managing Director of Mergis Group NYC. In addition, he says that most of these accountants come out of public accounting.

4. Valuation Analysts

Business valuation analysts determine the value of a business enterprise or the ownership's interest (for example, when a business is bought or sold). The analyst must have a good understanding of accounting, taxes, economics and finance.

Analysts need to have a CPA in order to become certified.

Qualifications for this position include a strong mathematical background, says Gramer. He advises applicants to wait for long-term growth opportunities.

Tips for Landing the Job
Role-specific competency is among financial employers' list of must-haves. Believe it or not, a strong educational background is not their main focus. Employers desire sufficient and specific real-world experience. They are also looking for candidates who've mastered "soft skills," such as the capability to communicate well and translate industry jargon.

For these high-level positions, companies have the money to pay salaries ranging from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars. With such large amounts of money at stake, they must cautiously assess candidates on talent and skill. Bolster your chances of landing the job by following these three tips:

  1. Network - Job seekers may have trouble finding openings for a few of these senior-level positions, which aren't necessarily advertised in newspapers. The best way to locate them is through networking. Recruiters advise attending industry-related events, joining industry organizations and logging on to social networking sites.
  2. Attain advanced educational and professional credentials - Many of the jobs require a CPA or other industry-recognized accreditation. Also, remember that your education does not end when you get a degree - it's key to stay abreast of changes and technological advancements within the industry.
  3. Develop "soft skills" - These positions require leadership and strong communication skills. Practice now by joining local volunteer organizations and taking on roles that enable you to lead and work in a team environment. Look for opportunities to develop and enhance your speaking and presentation skills by joining a speech club or taking a class.

The Bottom Line
Strategic thinking, outstanding communication and industry-specific skills will ultimately help you to not only get the coveted position, but also to succeed once the job is yours.

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