Linda MacDonald

Linda MacDonald received her MBA from Salem State University in 1996. Since then, she has worked in Finance in global companies and is revered as a highly motivated, enthusiastic, finance professional with strong analytical and business acumen. Over the years, Linda has honed her financial analysis, budgeting, forecasting, and reporting skillsets. What sets Linda apart is her exceptional leadership style, which is based on the merits of promoting teamwork, innovation, and encouraging others in the workplace. Linda strongly believes in continuous learning and development that creates a culture of empowering employees.

 

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Create Eye-Catching Monthly FP&A Reporting Packages

By Linda A. MacDonald, Controller and Finance Manager at Quadrant Health Strategies, Inc.

FP&A Analytics, Visual Analytics FP&A professionals know that in internal finance, your “customers” are senior management, stakeholders and business leaders. 

As a finance business partner, whether a Director of FP&A, Finance Manager, Financial Planning Analyst, or Controller, you are the “SME” (subject matter expert), and monthly reporting is your time to shine.

THE FINANCE SME

As a trusted finance business partner, you are the person involved in the day-to-day details of the business, closest to the transactions, making sense of data sets, compiling information, making decisions surrounding revenue recognition and expense management in accordance with US GAAP.  You are heavily relied upon from your customers, the business leaders, to present accurate, transparent, timely and informative management reports, financial statements, metrics, KPIs, graphs and other visual representations of data that are relevant, pertinent and reliable.  The purpose of these reports is for leaders to make sound business decisions that ultimately provide direction for the longevity of the business.  A lot rests on your shoulders!

THE NEW NORMAL

In my experience, whether your business leaders are financially savvy or not, solely presenting management reports, financial statements and long lists of generic information in a monthly reporting package has been proven ineffectual. Management reports and financial statements must be accompanied by visual aids, narratives and commentaries for optimal impact.

First, learn what your business leaders are most interested in.  Does their eye drop right to the bottom of the P&L to total net income or loss?  Are they most concerned with gross margin or contribution margin? The goal is to summarize data in easy-to-understand formats that show relevant information that prompts business leaders to put strategies in place to improve results and ultimately stakeholder value.

GOING A STEP FURTHER

In your monthly reporting package, consider incorporating analysis such as what-if analysis, rather than the run-of-the-mill reporting expectations.  Since management reports are submitted in electronic format, be sure to lock spreadsheets and cells.  You can create “input cells” if you want to create an interactive or results-driven report that is dependent on certain criteria and variables.

INFOGRAPHICS AND DASHBOARDS

There are a number of business intelligent programs that will automatically generate dashboards or you can use Excel to create attractive and eye-catching graphics that display results.  Bar charts, pie charts, and linear graphs can be designed to visually emphasize trends and results that are comprehensive, memorable and impactful. Data dashboards manage your metrics and KPIs in one snapshot.  Coloring graphs should be done in one tone or theme variation and should use no more than three to four shades of the same color.  You can even pull your company’s brand colors into your presentation.

When creating charts and graphs, remember that simpler is better.  Simplify graphs and charts by removing unnecessary axes and background lines.  Remove redundant labels and legends.  Clear, concise charts, graphs and infographics can provide a comprehensive overview of the business’s financial picture.  Use business metrics to gauge performance or progress toward a quantifiable goal.  Use KPIs to provide critical insight into “key” business measurements that best convey your business’s story.

When management reports are insightful, explanatory and convey a meaningful message, they are highly anticipated and referred to by senior management and business leaders throughout the month.  Be sure to give yourself kudos by incorporating your name into the presentation, so your name is seen regularly by senior management.

FP&A Analytics, Visual Analytics

SELECTING THE RIGHT CHART OR GRAPH FOR YOUR DATA

There are 4 main types of charts and graphs:

  1. Comparative
  2. Relational
  3. Distribution
  4. Composition

Line graphs compare changes over the same period of time.

Pie charts compare relationships of parts of a whole or highlight proportions.

Bar graphs compare data between different groups or track changes over time.

Stacked column shows the parts that contribute to the total and compare change over time.

FP&A Analytics, Visual AnalyticsFP&A Analytics, Visual Analytics

COMMENTARIES AND NARRATIVES

Each financial ratio presented as a result of your in-depth financial analysis, whether profitability, efficiency, stability, liquidity, debt or investor ratios, should include an explanation.  For example, if including a quick ratio of 1.5, you want to provide a narrative that says something like, “This ratio gauges liquidity, meaning the business has $1.50 of liquid assets available to cover each $1.00 of current liabilities.”   By simply stating, in a few words, what the ratio is measuring and what it means, supports business leaders’ understanding and purpose for the measurement.  The additional narrative provides valuable information for business leaders to make informed decisions.

MAKING RECOMMENDATIONS

As an FP&A professional, you should also make recommendations for improvement and provide solutions.  For example, when supplying a profitability ratio such as a contribution margin, which measures a business unit’s or product’s portion of net revenue that contributes to the company’s profit, you want to suggest specific strategies for improvement.  Provide a commentary such as, “At this time, a review of the current pricing structure or reducing variable production costs may be required.”  This recommendation further provides an overall comprehensive picture to senior management on how to best move forward with decisions.

The FP&A professional’s part in leadership is vital and important to the decision-making process and direction of your business.  Make it your mission to provide the most relevant data to your “customers.” Explain in non-finance terms, the results, implications, and impact of decisions.  This is your area to own, so be cool, calm and collected, and communicate with confidence!

 

 

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Creating a Professional Career Portfolio: A Step Toward Your Dream Job

By Linda A. MacDonald, Controller and Finance Manager at Quadrant Health Strategies, Inc.

The Finance Professional – A Non-VIisual Occupation

Businesses and technology are moving at the speed of light. Being proactive, rather than reactive, when it comes to your personal career, will prove beneficial when businesses are forced to react quickly to domestic and global conditions. Documenting your professional and career progression over the course of your employment will not only demonstrate your take-charge mentality, but display your increased business acumen and expertise.

Professional portfolios have always been the expected norm for creative, visual occupations, everything from computer-aided design, photography, artwork, interior design to runway models. For these types of careers, it is customary to visually showcase an array of pictures, photos, and examples of projects to demonstrate a specific set of skills and abilities. Until recently, this was not an option for the finance professional, a non-visual occupation. Finance professionals have typically taken the approach to lengthy résumés, detailing employment history and outlining routine tasks performed.

In the growing sea of finance professionals, it can be difficult, if not downright impossible, to land a good job, never mind your “dream” job. It’s enough to make your head spin with all the “tips and tricks” to make your résumé stand out among the hundreds, dare I say thousands, of other applicants. It simply doesn’t work. Finance professionals’ paradigm shift has been to show a creative side, other than preparing numbers-only financial statements or submitting a text résumé to a company and hoping for an interview.

Times Have Changed 

With all of the advances in online and mobile applications, not only are finance professionals familiar with, but can now use digital presentations, websites and links to present additional information to highlight their career growth, skillsets and abilities to a potential employer. (Links to some common portfolio websites are shared below.)

The ultimate goal in your job search is to get hired! The first step in this inundated and dog-eat-dog job search world is to get the interview. Next, you’ll need to quantify a successful finance career that showcases your achievements, quantifiable savings, business growth and expertise as a finance professional.

Typical of a finance résumé, achievements and tasks performed over the years are listed in chronological order by employer. We’ve all seen these types of résumés and probably have one of our own tucked away. It is not uncommon to list many of the same duties from one employer to the next, thus creating an even lengthier, and often overlooked, résumé.

  • Month-end close, journal entries, account reconciliations
  • Prepared rolling forecast
  • Presented monthly financial statements to stakeholders
  • Yada, yada, yada

Creating a professional career portfolio that describes your major achievements and skillsets by function, with graphics that depict growth throughout the years, as well as showcase our abilities at the same time, will absolutely set you apart from the rest! Showing this level of detail and forethought as part of your leadership mindset will catapult your application to the top of the “yes” pile.

 

You as the Product – What a Novel Idea

Fact is, like any item for sale, you are the product and likewise, need to create your personal brand to present your best self. Accomplishments that are visually stimulating, showcasing your abilities and demonstrating career growth will “wow” a potential employer and is necessary to earn the chance to sit in front of them.

Any sales decision is based on solving a problem. Know what the employer is looking for and how you can solve their problem. Once you know what that problem is, you can articulately speak to solving it. Thoughtful preparation will distinguish you from the rest.

Similar to giving a presentation to prove a point, drive home an idea, or support a decision, a well-thought-out professional career portfolio highlights your successes, summarizes your strengths, while simultaneously exhibiting your level of effort and attention to detail. Use this opportunity to boast about your knowledge of various programs, technical skills, online savvy, graphical, and presentation abilities.

Secret to Success

A profession career portfolio should be concise and to the point. Data must be organized, direct, succinct, compelling and prove your personal finance credibility. Presentations are best understood when data is visually appealing and understandable at a glance. With today’s bombardment of continuous data and media, the best visuals are the ones where the reader can gather the content with ease of movement from one point to the next. Research has shown that 90% of our brains respond to visual stimuli.

Your professional career portfolio is your opportunity to stand out from the crowd. For optimal impact, create three versions: digital (preferably PDF), online, and a physical copy. Use your online URL on your LinkedIn profile, your résumé and when completing applications online.

Showcase quantifiable achievements, such as sales growth year-over-year, savings realized due to a project you implemented or the value you can bring to the company.

A résumé is a summation of your experience throughout your work history. A professional career portfolio allows you to take it one step further, to demonstrate your achievements and business acumen gained over time, in a quick, easy to digest and succinct manner. Professional career portfolios should include a cover page, cover letter, table of contents, résumé/CV, functional areas (some examples mentioned below) and references.

A professional career portfolio may include functional areas such as:

  • Budgeting
  • Forecasting
  • Financial Analysis
  • Financial Reporting
  • Metrics, KPI’s & Modeling
  • Accounting & Auditing
  • Systems and Software

There are many other functional areas you can choose based on your experience, as well as other topics, such as education, experience, professional affiliations, licenses and certifications, and community and charitable work, to name a few. Functional areas also allow you to keep proprietary information private. You may even want to consider including your story, a short synopsis of your background, why you chose the finance field, or what lead you to this company. There is really no set way to create a professional career portfolio. It is truly a reflection of your own personal creativity and style.

During the interview, handing a professional career portfolio to an interviewer makes a great first impression, as well as provides something to flip through and ask questions. Be prepared to talk to your strengths, fit and added value.

Some things to remember:

  • Include your contact information
  • Use the same theme and colors as the company you are applying to
  • Customize your portfolio to the position
  • Include a personal business card
  • Include a professional headshot
  • Include references
  • Use high-quality paper, clear, plastic cover, spiral bound (so it lays flat) for hard copies

Last but not least, a professional career portfolio provides an additional document to upload to employer HR portals, email, and is the foundation for your online presence.

So take advantage of this new and exciting opportunity to highlight your best self and watch your career soar to new heights!

Online Portfolio Websites

  • wix.com
  • carbonmade.com
  • bigblackbag.com
  • imcreator.com
  • squarespace.com
  • weebly.com
  • crevado.com
  • about.me
  • portfoliobox.net
  • portfolio.adobe.com
  • portfoliogen.com
  • moonfruit.com

 

Sample Professional Career Portfolio

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Author's Articles

September 24, 2019

Professional portfolios have always been the expected norm for creative, visual occupations, everything from computer-aided design, photography, artwork, interior design to runway models. Until recently, this was not an option for the finance professional, a non-visual occupation. Finance professionals have typically taken the approach to lengthy résumés, detailing employment history and outlining routine tasks performed.

May 24, 2018

The FP&A professional’s part in leadership is vital and important to the decision-making process and direction of your business.  Make it your mission to provide the most relevant data to your “customers.”  Explain in non-finance terms, the results, implications, and impact of decisions.  This is your area to own, so be cool, calm and collected, and communicate with confidence!