When you started the CFO recruitment process, you put a lot of thought into what you wanted to accomplish by hiring for this position. You identified the key issues, threats and opportunities your new CFO would be addressing, and you have a good idea of the challenges your business and your CFO will be facing in the years to come. When you put together the variable pay component of your compensation plan for this position, you identified the key metrics with which you’d be judging the success of your new CFO.
These issues, opportunities and metrics should inform how you conduct the interview. You’re looking for a way to allow the candidates to show how their specific expertise and experience directly address your key criteria, and show you how they think.
First Get an Overview
Before you get into the real meat and potatoes of the interview, I recommend that you first get a sense of the candidate’s career path to date. Specifically, you want to know why they’ve made each move in their career. You’re looking for consistency in their career choices and you’re also trying to discover any speed bumps they may have encountered along the way. Ideally, the candidate has moved up a ladder of successive challenges and accomplishments in a relatively straight line.
After you’ve got a sense of the candidate’s career history and trajectory, it’s time to get down to specifics. I recommend that you come to the next phase of the interview with a set of questions that will tease out the candidates’ knowledge of, and experience with, the issues particular to your business and what you want this role to accomplish.
Throw Out Some Scenarios
Besides having a set of questions on hand, it’s also useful to have a couple of scenarios that you can lay out for the candidate, and have them explain in detail how they would approach those particular situations. The scenarios you put forward could be situations that happened in your business that either turned out particularly well — or particularly badly. These scenarios are instructive because you’ll already know what the right and wrong approaches were. It will be illuminating to see how the candidates’ thinking lines up with yours in each case, and what alternative solutions they may propose for the circumstance that turned out badly.
Always try to frame your questions so they require full answers. Instead of “Do you have experience with ERP implementations?” you might say, “Take me through your toughest ERP implementation, and explain your thought process and actions from vendor selection through to post-implementation testing.” Or, “How would you rate the success of that implementation and, in hindsight, what would you have done differently?”
Ten Great Interview Questions
Of course each company will want to delve into different specific issues and topics, but here are 10 great generic interview questions to pose to your prospective new CFO:
- “What key strategic initiatives have you worked on?”
- “What was the extent of your interaction with operational management in your last position?”
- “What was the toughest challenge that you and the rest of the management team of your last employer faced and how did you and the team meet that challenge?”
- “How is the finance team and function in your current employer different from when you joined the firm?”
- “What part do you play in the strategic planning process at your firm?”
- “What was the toughest finance challenge you faced in the past five years and how did you address it?”
- “What’s your approach to maximizing enterprise value?”
- “What have you done in your previous positions that materially improved enterprise value?”
- “What’s your approach to developing your team, and how do you deal with succession planning in the finance group?”
- “If you got hit by a bus tomorrow, how well would your finance team function in your absence?”
These types of questions will give you a good idea of the range of skills the candidate brings to the table, their overall approach to problem solving, and their management style.