Whether your business has grown to a size that requires a trusted professional to handle your financials, or it has become apparent that a replacement is necessary for someone in a key position, hiring a qualified CFO or controller can be a challenge. Your company's CFO or Controller is an essential member of your senior management team.
When you hire a CFO or Controller, where do you start? What should be your primary focus? The answers to these and other questions could be the difference between qualified candidates and warm bodies with resume in hand.
Here are important qualities to be aware of when hiring a CFO and a few of the best methods to find qualified candidates.
What Are Your Financial Management Needs?
Business managers who lack financial training might be unsure about whether their company needs a Controller or a Chief Financial Officer (CFO). If you are a medium-sized business with a plan to grow, your company would be better served to have at least an excellent Controller on staff. Once you begin to look at financing deals, capital markets, and significant growth, it will be beneficial to hire a CFO. An outstanding CFO can help your business access capital, prepare your financial projections, and find valuable cost savings for your organization.
What Matters Most in Your CFO and Controller Candidates
Since there is so much riding on your company's CFO and Controller positions, it is essential that you hire the right person for the job. Here is a list of must-have skills and attributes to look for in candidates when filling this key financial role.
- Technical Knowledge. First and foremost, your financial management job candidates must have a thorough understanding of every function within a typical accounting department. This includes payroll, accounts payable, accounts receivable, and more. Not only do most of these candidates have Master's degrees, many are also certified public accountants (CPAs) or certified management accountants (CMAs).
- Industry Experience. Depending on your industry, you may want to look for a candidate who has industry-specific experience. For example, non-profits and healthcare companies have unique accounting rules. Software companies also have complex ways of recognizing revenue. On the other hand, a candidate who is a ‘quick-study’ and meets other requirements shouldn't be ruled out. A candidate who worked in multiple industries in a public accounting firm has likely proven the ability to learn a new industry’s unusual accounting requirements.
- Soft Skills. There are intangible traits that are essential to making the best hires in any organization. You want your CFO or Controller to demonstrate leadership skills, have a willingness to learn and have a high degree of honesty and integrity.
- History of Results. As a top member of your management team, you want a CFO or Controller to do more than manage numbers. Your top candidates should be able to demonstrate a proven history of making process improvements and increasing the profits of a company or product lines. A person with strong problem-solving skills and initiative will have the ability to show you these results.
- Excellent References. Assuming you have found a candidate or narrowed down the field, be sure to check their references. When you contact references, ask questions about technical abilities, soft skills, and history of results. If a candidate is a right fit for the position, reference checks should line up with what you have already learned in the interviews.
How to Find and Hire Top CFO and Controller Candidates
Finding the most qualified talent is a challenge for any company since the best candidate must have the right training and experience, and fit well in the company culture of your organization. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more than half a million financial management jobs in the U.S., some at higher levels than others. Here are several ways you can make have better success when filling a CFO or controller position:
- Tap your network. When you have an open position, the first thing to do is to let your network know about the opening. Ideally, you will have an industry-specific network that you can tap for leads, but that should not preclude you from letting your attorney, banker, and other advisors know that you are kicking off an executive search.
- Track acquisitions. Have an awareness of when CFO's and Controllers are let go from their positions due to no fault of their own. Their company might have been acquired with an existing financial team in place. When good people lose their jobs, this could be an opportunity for you to hire your next superstar financial manager.
- Show flexibility. Keeping a position open long-term can be a hardship on your company. You may need to show flexibility to fill the open position more quickly, so you can stay in the business of making money.
- Hire an Executive Search firm. One of the best ways to find the best candidate for your CFO or Controller position is to enlist the help of an executive search firm or an organization which can provide an interim CFO - controller. Turnover is costly, so it is more important than ever to fill a position with the right candidate the first time, instead of the second… or third. With so much at stake, it makes sense to enlist the professional services of a company that will help your company meet its needs.
Hiring someone in your organization should never be taken lightly, whether it is a frontline worker or your most senior financial manager. By having a keen understanding of what your company needs and following a systematic approach to the hiring process, you will find the candidate to help your organization meet its operational and financial goals.