The CFO'S Perspective

Can ChatGPT Help or Hurt as You Pursue a Job as a CFO?



If you are reading this and don't know what ChatGPT is, you better Google the phrase and learn about what is starting to transform many aspects of society and business. It is an AI tool developed by Open AI, a company that Microsoft has recently announced it has invested billions in and is incorporating into its Edge browser. TikTok has run amok on the topic, and it was TikTok that helped create a million ChatGPT users in less than a week from launch in late 2022.

To give a very high-level summary, one aspect of ChatGPT is you will never have to start a writing project staring at a blank piece of paper. State what you want to write about in ChatGPT, and voila – a few paragraphs or much longer will quickly appear. Stories are being told of people using this tool for term papers, copywriting, and cover letters; you name it, even a judge in Colombia recently used it to write a legal opinion.

My focus is in the context of a person working on getting their first CFO job or a CFO making a change. I should issue a warning: if you have not used ChatGPT before, after reading this article, you may find yourself acting like Alice going down the rabbit hole – your family, co-workers, and friends may not see you for a while as you use the easy-to-use AI app.Rather than using my own words, let's have ChatGPT explain by asking:

"How can ChatGPT help a person get a job as CFO?"

ChatGPT Response:

ChatGPT can assist a person in getting a job as a CFO in the following ways:

  1. Resume Writing: ChatGPT can help a person craft an effective and professional resume that highlights their skills and experiences, making them stand out from other applicants.
  2. Cover Letter Writing: ChatGPT can also help a person write a compelling cover letter that explains why they are the best fit for the CFO role.
  3. Interview Preparation: ChatGPT can provide interview tips and help a person prepare for common questions that might be asked in a CFO interview.
  4. Networking and Job Searching: ChatGPT can offer advice on networking and job searching, including the best places to find CFO job openings and how to make the most of professional networks.
  5. Industry Knowledge: ChatGPT can provide information on the CFO role, including the responsibilities, skills required, and the latest trends in the industry.
  6. Salary and Benefits Negotiations: ChatGPT can provide guidance on salary and benefits negotiations, including how to research market rates and negotiate the best deal.

    By utilizing ChatGPT's services, a person can have a more informed and strategic approach to their job search and increase their chances of landing the CFO role they desire.

Reading the above, isn't this what a career counselor or recruiter does for me? Maybe I don't need them anymore. Well, I say to future and current CFOs, not so fast. AI cannot replace the human-to-human interactive element that is needed to become a CFO for a company. But this tool can make you more informed before talking with a recruiter or CEO.

Next, let’s focus on the interview aspect of getting a job as CFO. How can a person use the tool while being interviewed, and what can a company do when interviewing the CFO?

Let's start by asking ChatGPT:

"How can ChatGPT be used to evaluate a CFO?"

ChatGPT Response:

ChatGPT is an AI language model, it does not have the capability to evaluate a CFO (Chief Financial Officer) directly. However, it can provide information and support to understand the key responsibilities and roles of a CFO, and what skills and qualities are considered important in a successful CFO.

I wonder how it provides information and support; well, one needs to keep asking questions in ChatGPT and see what path it takes you. Think of it as thinking for you after you ask a question. Say you have not been a CFO yet and need to articulate why you are ready for the next step from Controller to CFO. Or you are a business owner and think you need a CFO, not a Controller.

"What is the difference between a Controller and a Chief Financial Officer?"

ChatGPT Response:

A Controller and a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) are both senior-level financial executives within an organization, but they have different responsibilities and areas of focus.

A Controller is primarily responsible for the day-to-day accounting and financial reporting functions of an organization. The Controller's responsibilities typically include maintaining the general ledger, preparing financial statements, and overseeing the accounts payable and receivable functions. The Controller is also responsible for ensuring that financial reports are accurate and comply with relevant laws and regulations.

On the other hand, the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) is responsible for providing strategic financial leadership to an organization. The CFO is involved in the development of long-term financial plans, management of financial risks, and evaluation of investment opportunities. The CFO is also responsible for overseeing the financial performance of the organization, and for ensuring that the organization has appropriate systems and controls in place to manage its financial resources effectively.

In short, the Controller is focused on the day-to-day financial operations of an organization, while the CFO is focused on the long-term financial strategy and performance of the organization. Both positions play critical roles in the financial management of an organization, and often work closely together to ensure the organization's financial success.

The answer above is undoubtedly fine; it is accurate. But in the real world, the answer is incomplete. AI cannot replace what humans who interact with other humans may observe. I have spent nearly 15 years interviewing thousands of CFOs and listening to hundreds of CEOs. I also started as a public accounting auditor and became a small company CFO.

There are many nuances I would add in my response to this question. I will use just one for illustration:

A CFO is an accountant who is willing to be wrong at times. What I mean is that, as ChatGPT points out, a CFO focuses mainly on the future, and when one develops financial forecasts, a CFO must make assumptions and use assumptions from others. Often the assumptions may prove completely or partially wrong, and then the forecast is wrong.

To be a CFO, you must be ready to be wrong, admit where things did not go right, and always know you are making decisions based on incomplete information. The accountant who must always be right makes sure all information is known before saying the financial statements are closed, is uncomfortable with being wrong will likely not move beyond the role of Controller.

And there is nothing wrong with that – a good career counselor or recruiter should help people understand themselves and guide them to the right job. At the moment, AI cannot do that for you.

As the business owner/CEO, the experienced executive CFO recruiter can point out this nuance as you ponder whether it is time for a CFO for my company and can my Controller be promoted. It is not just the technical and practical experience of your Controller you should consider; it is the nuance of their personality and who they are as they make decisions with incomplete information. AI cannot help you with that.

Let's now move to see how ChatGPT answers some interview questions. There are many questions people are asked in job interviews, and you can prep for your next CFO interview by asking ChatGPT the question and see what the answer is:

"What is the difference between good and great?"

ChatGPT Response:

The difference between good and great can be subjective and can vary depending on the context. Generally, "good" refers to something that meets expectations or is satisfactory, while "great" implies that something surpasses expectations and is exceptional.

For example, a good performance might meet all of the requirements or expectations, while a great performance would go above and beyond and truly stand out. A good meal might satisfy hunger, while a great meal might be memorable and have exceptional flavors.

In terms of work or achievement, the difference between good and great often comes down to attention to detail, a strong work ethic, and a drive to continuously improve. Someone who produces good work may be satisfied with meeting the minimum requirements, while someone who produces great work is likely to put in extra effort and strive for excellence in every aspect of their work.

"What are three key characteristics of an effective management team?" 

ChatGPT Response:

An effective management team is critical for the success of any organization. Three key characteristics of an effective management team include:

  1. Clear Communication: Effective management teams communicate openly, honestly, and frequently with one another. They make sure that everyone is on the same page and that there are no misunderstandings or confusion. Good communication helps to build trust and ensures that everyone is working towards the same goals.
  2. Collaboration: Effective management teams work together seamlessly, relying on each other's strengths and supporting each other's weaknesses. They understand that the success of the team is dependent on the success of each individual and work together to achieve common goals.
  3. Adaptability: Effective management teams are able to adapt to changing circumstances and are not afraid to pivot when necessary. They are able to think creatively and come up with new solutions to problems. This ability to adapt and evolve helps them to stay ahead of the curve and stay competitive in a rapidly changing business environment.

Having these three characteristics can help ensure that a management team works effectively and efficiently, and achieve success for the organization.

I have asked hundreds of candidates these two questions over the years, and many CFOs' responses are very similar to ChatGPT. Yet ChatGPT just surfaced a few months ago. To me, this again highlights that ChatGPT cannot pick up the nuances of a specific person. And it confirms what I have felt for many years: many individuals in the CFO position do not spend enough time thinking about what makes them unique compared to other CFOs. Most are very comfortable going into details about explaining a deal they negotiated, talking about a system's implementation, or describing a dashboard they created that helped their fellow leaders and CEOs make better decisions. These skills and qualities are needed, but what makes a CFO stand out is how they work with others and talk about topics that fall under the leadership/management of people and organizations – not the numbers part of being a CFO.

Often CFOs answer questions related to soft skills in what I used to call a textbook answer to the interview question. There is nothing wrong with the answer, but it lacked personality and flavor. It was a meal that needed salt and some spices added. I will now say – it sounds like a ChatGPT answer.

Like ChatGPT, I didn't directly answer the headline of my article. What I hoped was accomplished is to introduce you to a new tool that appears likely to transform many parts of life and remind you that the uniqueness of being human makes the difference. Focus on what makes you unique the next time you interview to be a CFO in talking with a recruiter, the CEO, your potential new management peers, and the people that will report to you. And learn about what makes them unique as humans. The more you focus on this, the more likely your next CFO position will be a good match for you.

About the Author

alex-de-soto-2021Alex de Soto anchors the CFO Selections search practice. He brings over 25 years of experience in accounting, finance, human resources, and executive search to his role as the search team leader.

Since 2008, he has spent most of his time helping CEOs and CFOs of Pacific Northwest-based companies find that unique match they seek for a CFO or Controller.


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