Straight Answers to Real Questions
Question: I was most recently CFO of a good-sized public telecommunications concern. I had been with the company for seven years, the last five of which as VP Finance. Two years ago, the company replaced the CEO, my boss, with another telecommunications executive recruited from outside the company.
The new CEO has slowly but surely been replacing members of the old executive team with picks he’s been bringing in from other telecomm companies, primarily people he’s worked with before. It may be small consolation that I was the last to be let go, but the fact remains I was let go a couple of months ago and I’m a little at a loss to explain it to potential employers.
Will the fact that I was essentially fired from my last position make it that much harder to find another CFO position?
Answer: The circumstances around you leaving your last position should not have a negative impact on your future career prospects. You may be comforted to know that your story is a very familiar one. It’s a story that I hear quite often when I’m interviewing potential candidates for VP Finance and CFO searches and for the most part does not influence my decision as to whether or not they go on the short list.
When I hear a story like yours, I think about it like this:
- Your employer is a public company; they’re going to be very fussy about who they select to be CFO.
- You were there seven years and during that time you were promoted to the top finance spot.
- The fact that your employer chose the CEO from outside company’s ranks infers that they may have been interested in taking the company in a somewhat different direction. If that was indeed the case, it’s natural for the CEO to want to select his own executive team.
When a CFO at your level is let go, it’s almost never a function of performance or personality fit or any of the rest. It’s a function of the new boss wanting to put together their own team. And that should be very well accepted by almost everyone who would interview you. Be prepared to offer pertinent (and glowing) references. I’d especially offer as a reference the CEO you worked for previously as well of one of your former fellow executive teammates. You can certainly cite the guy who fired you as a reference and assuming there’s no background animus there, he should also give you a fair shake. Don’t expect him to praise you to the skies, but he should explain the circumstances around your departure and assure any potential employer that there were no performance or personality issues involved.