Survey Shows Interpersonal Skills Can Trump Technical Knowledge in Job Search

Having a winning personality has always helped in making friends or getting a date, but a recent survey confirms it also opens doors in the job search. When presented with accounting or finance candidates who possess similar qualifications, 31 percent of chief financial officers (CFOs) interviewed said applicants’ people skills would tip the balance over such attributes as software proficiency and advanced certifications. This is up significantly from five years ago when interpersonal skills were cited by only 1 percent of respondents.

The survey was developed by Accountemps, the world’s first and largest specialized staffing service for temporary accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals, and conducted by an independent research firm. It was based on telephone interviews with more than 1,400 CFOs across the United States.

CFOs were asked, “If two candidates interviewing for an accounting or finance position had similar skills, which one of the following additional qualifications would you find most valuable?” Their responses for 2009 and 2004 respectively:

Personality or people skills: 31%,1%
Software/technology knowledge: 27%,33%
Industry-specific experience: 20%,41%
Certification or advanced degree: 11%,15%
Multilingual skills: 4%,7%
International experience: 4%,3%
Other: 1%,0%
None: 1%,0%
Don’t know:1%,0%

“Interpersonal skills take center stage in a collaborative workplace,” said Max Messmer, chairman of Accountemps and author of Job Hunting For DummiesR, 2nd Edition (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.). “Accountants must be able to present financial information to nonfinancial audiences, make strategic recommendations and work with colleagues from diverse departments.”

Messmer pointed out that job seekers should use the employment interview as an opportunity to establish a rapport with hiring managers. “The conversation should be natural, and applicants should try to find common ground with the employer. It’s also valuable for job seekers to describe business situations where they were recognized for their teamwork or for inspiring others to perform at a high level.”

About the Survey

The national study was developed by Accountemps, a division of Robert Half International and the world’s first and largest specialized staffing service for temporary accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals. It was conducted by an independent research firm and is based on more than 1,400 telephone interviews with CFOs from a random sample of U.S. companies with 20 or more employees. For the study to be statistically representative and ensure that companies from all segments are represented, the sample was stratified by geographic region and number of employees. The results were then weighted to reflect the proper proportions of the number of employees within each region.

About Accountemps

Accountemps has more than 360 offices worldwide and offers online job search services at