Hiring a CFO: DIY or Executive Recruiter?


There’s no question that it’s possible to find a senior financial executive without the use of an executive search firm. It can be quicker and it’s certainly a lot cheaper. And if the CFO you source on your own has all of the attributes and technical expertise you had on your wish list when you started the process, then you absolutely come out a winner.

However, many owner-managers who decide to DIY the CFO recruitment process compromise on their wish list items and end up adjusting their expectations to suit the candidates they’re interviewing.

That being said, these DIY  owner-managers usually don’t end up hiring badly. But if they started the search looking for someone strategic, a real leader who could be transformational for their business, they’re often pretty frustrated one or two years down the line. Here’s why:

Your Ideal Candidate is Probably Not Actively on the Market

The first step in any DIY recruitment process is to post the position on various job boards, utilizing social network sites like LinkedIn and making use of your existing network. That’s certainly a good start but the limitation of this approach is that you are likely to only come across potential candidates who are actively seeking a new job.  In the senior accounting and finance market, active candidates only comprise 15%-20% of all the people who may be willing to consider your opportunity. Most potential candidates are gainfully if not entirely happily employed, are not activing pursuing a new role but would be interested in moving if the right opportunity comes along.

Headhunters Hunt Heads

Headhunters have the tools and expertise to generate a long list of potential candidates who aren’t responding to job boards and they proactively approach these people to determine whether they might be interested in transitioning their career at that time.

Since all of the people the recruiter reaches out to are generally in the right ball park profile-wise, The short list they produce is drawn from a field of candidates that is many times larger than the candidate pool the DIY owner-manager draws from.

Dealing with the Known Unknowns of Recruiting a CFO

The vast majority owner-managers come out of sales, operations or they were born into the business. And although no-one gets to run a decent size business without some understanding of finance and accounting, too often an owner-manager doesn’t fully understand the value he or she can get out of their CFO.

If the CFO position is vacant because someone quit or retired, the default position of the owner-manager is usually to replace the incumbent with someone with the same skill set and level of experience. The problem with this approach is that while the incumbent might have been the right choice when they first came on board years ago, it’s entirely possible that what the company needs now is a completely different profile and skill set.

An executive recruiter that’s expert in this market will be able to help the hiring authority align the position with corporate goals and devise a search strategy that will attract the right candidates.

Closing the Deal

Negotiating any deal in business can be tricky. Negotiations around hiring are especially tricky because it’s very hard for both parties to stay totally rational and objective. A good head-hunter should be able to steer the negotiations around the various rocks and shoals (and bruised feelings) that can arise around remuneration, titles, vacation, etc. and ensure the right person doesn’t turn into the one that got away because of a missed step or faulty communications.

Cost Benefit Analysis

If you engage the right executive recruiter, the only con is the price ticket. And like any other DIY project, it all comes down to whether or not the incremental benefit you gain by using a professional is greater than the cost.

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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