Straight Answers to Real Questions
Question: I like to think that I’m a pretty well-qualified financial executive. I’ve got an MBA, I’m a CPA CMA and I’ve been a very successful VP Finance / CFO in three different companies over the past fifteen years.
My resume shows that I’ve progressed through a number of challenging and rewarding positions and I know that my previous employers all give me glowing references.
I’ve interviewed for three different CFO positions over the past six months and while I’ve gone on to second interviews on two of those opportunities, I never made it to the offer stage.
The recruiter I’m working with assures me that the feedback from the people I’ve interviewed with was very positive every time, but I’m starting to get concerned that after three times at the plate, I’m still striking out.
Any tips on how to knock it out of the park next time?
Answer: This is a very common issue for financial executives who go into an interview thinking that their qualifications make them an obvious choice for the job at hand.
Let’s take a look at the factors that come into play when a company is looking for a CFO.
Number one, you need to be technically qualified for the job. That could mean having a mix of industry experience, systems skills, strategic chops, etc. Because you made it to the three interviews in the first place, we can assume that you had most, if not all, of the technical skills required to be successful in the position.
But as you mentioned, you were working with a recruiter—and it’s the recruiter’s job to present a short list of at least four candidates who’ve dealt with the technical issues they’d be confronting in the CFO role they’re interviewing for. And even though all four or five CFO candidates will have had experience dealing with these key technical issues, they’ll have them in different degrees.
So if, for example, the number one issue the client wants to resolve is a major ERP implementation, all other things being equal, the candidate with the strongest ERP experience will have the edge. It could also be direct industry experience, acquisitions experience, dealing with private equity firms or any or all of the above.
The other big factor is the all-important fit, especially if you’re interviewing at an owner-managed company. In owner-managed companies, your prospective employer isn’t looking at you like you would look at a prospective controller.
If you want to hire a controller, you obviously want to like the person you eventually hire but you’re thinking about them as a potential employee and the relationship that infers.
Many owner-managers looking at you won’t be thinking of you in terms of being a potential employee; they’re looking at you in terms of being a potential partner. Someone who’s going to have a meaningful impact on their company’s success and enterprise value—which means you need to fit like a glove in the owner-manager’s eyes.
And the last factor is this: they can only hire one CFO. They may interview five great, technically qualified, charming-as-all-get-out CFO candidates but in the end, they have to call the ball on just one.
I’m pretty sure the fact that you struck out on those three interviews isn’t a function of you. And if it’s any consolation, there’s a corollary to the formula that one in five highly qualified candidates gets the job.
I know that if I send five highly qualified candidates to meet with a client, one in those five will get the job.
The corollary is that if I send one highly qualified candidate to five different CFO interviews, he or she will land one of those jobs.
So by my math, you’re due to hit it out of the park soon.