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How financial services job seekers can overcome the skills gap

By Kevin Knapp, CFO of CareerBuilder

Nearly half of financial services companies are struggling to fill certain positions, despite plenty of potential candidates that could have a positive impact in these roles. According to a new survey by MoneyJobs.com, CareerBuilder's job site for finance and accounting professionals, 47 percent of financial services firms have open positions for which they can't find qualified candidates and 49 percent cite a skills deficit as a reason for vacancies.

Financial services organizations require a high caliber of employees due to the technical expertise required and the high impact information they deal with, but the fact that almost half of financial services companies grappling with a hiring issue requires a deeper look. For job seekers, becoming aware of and overcoming the concerns of these hiring managers is the most effective way to secure a job and help close the skills gap.

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When pursuing a role in financial services, consider these actions:

Be realistic about salary and don't forget the benefits
Thirty-seven percent of hiring managers reported gaps in expectations around wages as the top contributor to long-term unfilled positions.  Too often companies are restricted by budget concerns to address it by simply increasing compensation. 

Currently, only 19 percent of financial services employers think their organizations offer "extremely or very" competitive pay. Only 42 percent said they would consider increasing compensation for tough-to-fill roles while a third (32 percent) said they would not. Twenty-six percent said they've already increased compensation.

To trounce the pay issue, decide on several wage levels you're willing to accept using market data, not water cooler rumors on what you might be worth in the marketplace. Also, make sure you take into account other job benefits that employers are offering that may make up  for a lower cash paycheck  Remember that employers are more willing to open their pocketbook for known impact players so accepting lower compensation up-front and then proving your worth by exceeding expectations once you are on the job is often the best route to a higher salary rather than waiting for that "ideal" offer from the outside to materialize.

Search for new skills on and off the job
When employers cite a skills gap as their roadblock to finding qualified employees, they may mean that the employee can't meet their overly specific job requirements (32 percent) or that the candidate has education gaps in particular areas (29 percent).

One encouraging fact to think about: A majority (55 percent) of financial services employers believe training should be equally shared between employers and workers. In fact, 27 percent say the bulk of the responsibility should fall on the employer. Perhaps more surprising is finding that 37 percent of employers provide technical skills training on-the-job.

In the application process, communicate to employers your willingness to learn.  Many employers are more apt to take a calculated risk on someone who might not have the specific skills today but has demonstrated an eagerness for self-improvement.  If you notice many job postings requiring the same software knowledge, mathematical abilities or business know-how, consider pursuing the education needed to obtain these qualifications.

Point to the bottom line
The skills gap isn't specific only to financial services -- this issue is being seen across the workforce. In a separate CareerBuilder survey, 1 in 4 employers admit they have lost revenue due to extended job vacancies. The average company can lose more than $14,000 for every job that stays open for three months or longer. One in six companies lose $25,000 or more.

In addition, employees are affected by positions left open for too long. Workers burdened with heavier workloads have lower morale (41 percent), produce lower quality work (30 percent), certain work never gets done (40 percent) and work that is done is not delivered on time (34 percent).

When a company sees how much revenue they're losing due to a vacant position and how much they can save by investing in new-hire training, the appeal of candidates who have big potential but offer different skill sets than they expected suddenly goes up.

Don't put it off.  Take advantage of recent job growth
In a separate nationwide survey of financial services hiring managers and human resources professionals, 35 percent of financial services employers are increasing full-time headcount this year compared to 2013 -- 11 points above the national average and up from 27 percent in 2013.

Job growth in financial services is expected to outpace job growth for all occupations in 2014, which is good news for workers of all experience levels. An industry quickly adding new jobs makes room for workers with less qualifications to gain experience and affords opportunities for more seasoned workers. Those contemplating opportunities in financial services may want to take advantage of the current market conditions now before they invariably shift again.

Navigating the skills gap may bring an extra challenge to a job seeker's search, but those workers with the desire to make it in the competitive financial services industry will undoubtedly be able to overcome this issue.

Kevin Knapp is chief financial officer of CareerBuilder.

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Story Filed Thursday, May 08, 2014 - 11:33 AM


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