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How important is prior knowledge of specific accounting software packages when hiring into your finance team?

Greg Broadbent By Greg Broadbent on July 1st, 2020

All too often, when hiring finance professionals, clients will ask us to ensure that, as a pre-requisite, the candidate has prior experience of using the specific accounting software package used by the client.

On the face of it this is understandable. If a candidate understands the system, it makes the induction process simpler, involves less time on behalf of the employer in training the new employee and, potentially, a strong user can bring greater experience of the system that could help the employer improve their use of it.

BUT how essential is it really…? Having worked in and led finance teams here’s my view…

Junior hires – if we want to attract new young blood into accountancy, then they may have little prior experience and, let’s face it, they have to learn somewhere. If they’re bright with a good academic record, then they are very likely to be able to learn what’s required of them with little fuss. With some training – either from the inhouse team or from tutorials (often video online learning) provided by the software supplier – they will be able to pick up the transactional data entry pretty quickly.

Mid-level hires – whilst is can be useful to be able to hit the ground running in terms of client billing and revenue management, accounts payable and cash/bank, and management accounts production, I believe that with either a handover or internal training from other team members or the  software supplier, they can be up to speed very quickly irrespective of whether they’ve used the system before.

Senior hires – If there is a junior transactional team in place, then the most important thing for the senior finance team (let’s say Finance Managers, Financial Controllers and Finance Directors)  is to understand the business financial model so that they know what information they want to get out of the system. If they know what they want out of the system in terms of reporting and analytics to aid business decision-making, then they can then interrogate the accounting system (working either with their in-house team or liaising with the software supplier, helpdesk etc).

In all cases, what are required are an aptitude and desire for learning, and an ability to learn new systems (evident if they’ve used different systems for sustained periods of employment previously). Understanding what you want to get out of the system – data, reports, listings etc – is paramount so that the system can be interrogated, and the data inputs or data entry processes amended accordingly.

HOWEVER, I would accept that there are occasions where prior system knowledge is a reasonably required pre-requisite. These are principally when time does not afford the luxury of training and hitting the ground running is essential. Such examples may be short term temporary hires (quick fixers for specific projects or extra headcount to cope with peak workloads); Financial Controllers/Managers coming into a business with no other accountants to support data entry (i.e. “sole-role”); systems accountants with a specific remit relating to the implementation or improvement of an accounting system. Also in our current COVID situation with remote working – specific systems knowledge is relevant if where support from colleagues or third party trainers is limited.

Other than these exceptions, I think that prior system experience as a pre-requisite when hiring candidates is a red-herring. Even having it as a preferred requirement could still result in the employer missing out on great candidates; all for the sake of a bit of convenience and lack of desire to afford some initial training time.

Or am I missing something?

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