Job Description: Solve My Problem
Take a look at the various CFO job descriptions you see on LinkedIn. There may be a couple that tell a good story about the company and give a nuanced description of the position and the challenges involved, but for the most part, CFO job descriptions are fairly generic. They will talk about timely and accurate financial information, financial planning, budgets and forecasts, treasury operations, etc. – all of which are part and parcel of any CFO position, but none of which tell you what the job is really all about.
You wouldn’t know it from the job descriptions, but every CFO position is unique and as different from the others as a lemon is from a grapefruit (they’re both sour citrus fruits, but there’s no such thing as grapefruit meringue pie and you’re probably not going to have a glass of lemon juice with your breakfast).
It’s a Wide World Out There
Every CFO position is informed by the size of the company, the industry it operates in and the current SWOT situation (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats). The position is also impacted by what’s gone on before (does the finance group need to be re-engineered?) and the expectations for the future. There are often major I.T. issues that need to be addressed (in three out of five CFO searches I conduct, lack of adequate systems is a problem). And of course, the CFO position is materially affected by the CEO’s personality and the dynamic of the management team.
When I meet with a client to discuss a CFO search, this is what we talk about. In the course of these discussions, some of what you see in CFO job descriptions is emphasized. As I mentioned before, the main challenges are often having to do with systems, usually a contemplated ERP implantation or conversion. Sometimes there needs to be a special emphasis on management reporting, and sometimes it’s about the ability to get access to capital. But by and large, most of what you see CFO job descriptions are table stakes.
The problem with boilerplate job descriptions is that they don’t tell the prospective candidate what’s really going on with the company doing the hiring and the particular experience and skill sets required to ace the job. And if you don’t know what your potential customer (the hiring authority) is shopping for, it’s very difficult to know what to pitch.
Don’t Make Assumptions
Don’t assume that just because you’re a seasoned CFO and your experience covers each and every bullet point in the job description that your resume is going to wow a prospective employer. Most of the resumes they’re going to look at will cover most, if not all, of the bullet points detailed in the job description. That’s not actually what they’re looking for. Simply put, what they’re looking for is someone who’s going to solve their problem.
So, as the prospective candidate, you’ve got two challenges. Challenge number one: figure out what problem(s) the prospective employer needs solved, and number two: specifically detail how you would solve those problems.
If you’re dealing with a headhunter in looking at a specific opportunity, the first part will be easy. The headhunter should be able to give you chapter and verse on the history of the company and the specific challenges and opportunities the company and the CFO position will be facing.
If you heard about the opportunity from a friend, you might be able to get part of the story through them but you should also do the same kind of research you would do if you just saw the job posted on the web.
Do Your Research
Obviously, you’re going to visit the company’s website and glean as much information as you can about the company’s history, place in the market, management team, products, and so on. Next, do a search for any press releases or announcements associated with the company or any of their top executives. You can also look up the management team on LinkedIn and see if you can pick up any intel that way. Another tip is to find any industry specific online trade magazines. These can often give you insights on what the particular issues are in that industry, companies on the move, and what industry or product innovations are making the news.
While this research may not give you an exact fix on what the prospective employer may be looking for, it should give you an idea of the areas that may be of particular interest to the hiring authority. If nothing else, you’ll be 90% better prepared for an interview than any of your competition.
Address the Issues
The next step is to numerate the issues you know (or suspect) the hiring authority is particularly interested in and specifically and in detail address what you know about that topic and how you’ve dealt with it in the past. If you’ve had an in-depth briefing on the challenges facing the new CFO, you might even want to treat it as a case study and lay out how you would address those issues if you got the job.
There’s an adage in sales that you should always sell benefits, not features. Features are the surface statements about your product, what it can do, its dimensions and specs and so on. That’s your resume.
Benefits are the end result of what a product can actually accomplish for the customer. That’s what this exercise is all about and what you should always be emphasizing in an interview.