A Primer on Recruiting CFOs


A few months ago I was meeting with a prospective client, the owner-manager of a consumer products manufacturer, to talk about recruiting a CFO for their organization. It was an important hire for the company but from what I could tell from my initial discussion with the owner-manager, from a recruiter’s point of view, it would be a fairly straight forward search.

One of my rules when I’m pitching for a new assignment is that I need to be 100% confident that we can fill the position before we take on the search. Actually, we also need to be confident that we’ll be able come up with a short list of four or five good candidates so that the client is comfortable that they’re hiring the best person from a strong field of candidates.

Unicorn Hunting = Waste of Time

So if the prospective client wants us to go unicorn hunting, we point out that unicorns are mythical creatures not found in nature. We won’t take on the search because we know that unicorn hunting is a big waste of time and the client will end up frustrated and disappointed at the end of the search (and will end up blaming us). If however, the prospective client is realistic in their expectations and is willing to pay appropriately for what they’re looking for, we know that we’ll be able to produce the results the client is looking for in a reasonable timeframe (usually within a month).

Results Guaranteed?

When I lay out the proposition that we guarantee that we’ll fill the position when we’re pitching a CEO for a CFO position, most of the time it’s taken at face value. In the world of retained, executive search, headhunters are expected to come through with the goods each and every time. However, every now and again, especially when the prospective client has had a previous bad experience with a recruiter, my pitch is met with some skepticism.

I’m from Missouri, Show Me

And so it was with the owner of the CPG company I was meeting with. I talked about how we work and what he should expect and mentioned in the course of my spiel that we fill 100% of the searches we undertake. At which point, the prospective client leaned back in his chair, crossed his arms, smiled a little and said: “Really? One hundred percent?”

I understand why he was skeptical. I’m sure that in his previous encounters with recruiters, he would have worked with them on a contingency basis and in some cases the placement agencies were successful and in other cases, not. So the idea of a 100% guarantee of results was naturally not something he had run across before.

A Primer on Searching for a CFO

Let’s very quickly run down how we conduct a search for a CFO.

  1. Thoroughly scope out the specs of the job.
  2. Create a candidate profile.
  3. Research the market and come up a list of 100 to 150 potential candidate profiles that may be a fit for the job.
  4. Reach out to each of the 100 to 150 people on the list.
  5. Triage the 15 to 20 people who indicate that they would be interested in looking at a new opportunity.
  6. Interview the 10 to 12 most appropriate potential candidates.
  7. Select the best four or five candidates to present to the client.
  8. If there are less than four strong candidates on the short list, identify an additional 50 profiles to reach out to and repeat steps 4 through 7.

It’s Not Rocket Science

Of course, the above is a simplistic iteration of a how the search is conducted but in essence, that’s how it’s done. It’s not rocket science; it’s just a lot of work. There are a couple of places where the recruiter’s experience and knowledge really come into play, scoping out the position and figuring out who the best candidates are for example, but the vital step in any CFO search is making sure that you reach out to enough people. You need to have a critical mass of good potential candidates so you can pick four or five really good candidates.

You Can Always Get There from Here

In every case, on every search, as long as we’re not chasing unicorns, we can always get there from here.

If you think you may be in the market for top financial talent in the next few months, call me direct or email me, for a no obligation consultation.

(416) 567-7782 lance@osbornefinancialsearch.com

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