There is no doubt that hiring in accounting and finance right now is harder than ever before. And yet, despite today’s challenges, companies still need CFOs, which means that simply going without a CFO is not an option.
So, how do you overcome today’s hiring challenges to win the talent war? When you are hiring a CFO, it is going to be important that you focus on finding someone that meets all of your most critical needs first, before trying to check any boxes on your wants list. While this may seem like obvious advice for organizations that are keenly aware of the difference between their wants and needs for the role, many companies struggle to draw a distinction between the two. To complicate matters, what may be a need for one organization might be a want for another even if both are in the same industry or business stage. Even within a single organization what may have been considered a nice-to-have the last time the role was vacant could very well be a must-have this time around.
Let’s take a look at some of the criteria that organizations use to determine their needs and wants when hiring a CFO:
One of the areas organizations tend to overlook when searching for a CFO is how they want them to approach the role. Ask yourself, “Does the organization need strategic or tactical help?”
If you are looking for someone to focus more on long-term planning and strategic decision-making with a broader perspective, you will want to find a more strategically oriented candidate. However, if you are looking for someone to focus more on making operational improvements and implementing the organization’s existing strategic plans, you will want to find a more tactically oriented candidate. Obviously, the most successful financial leaders will need to embrace both of these approaches to be effective. However, candidates may naturally be more inclined to one approach or the other, making them a better fit for an organization looking for a financial leader that is stronger in that area. For that reason, it is critical to determine whether you are looking for a CFO to assess, strategize around, and lead the “what” or the “how” for the organization.
Does your organization need a CFO with industry expertise or specific types of experience in their professional background? This will vary not only by industry but also by individual company based on the CEO’s perspective. Some industries have unique accounting and finance needs that really do necessitate bringing in a financial leader that has previous hands-on experience with these challenges. However, in other cases, this is a judgement call by the rest of the leadership team based on what they feel will be best for the organization. Whether industry experience or specific career progressions are deemed requisite or preferred, hiring teams should never discount an otherwise qualified candidate just because they lack one hiring criteria without first talking with them directly because of the ambiguity in accounting and finance job titles that can obscure their previous relevant experience.
Startups are often stricter when it comes to a CFO candidate’s background because they are typically searching for someone that will look good on paper to help them generate capital. If the pedigree of your CFO genuinely matters for the duties of the role, then it may make sense to fence the role to candidates by tenure or prestige of previous roles. Again though, do not entirely discount applicants that do not fit within this rigid box because there may be well qualified candidates that do not necessarily match what you are looking for, but bring other perspective, skills, and connections to help achieve funding objectives.
Too often those making hiring decisions will focus solely on financial acumen without stopping to consider the broader picture. That is a big mistake because some of today’s most important skills for CFOs are actually tech skills rather than strictly FP&A skills. As our team explains,
“Today’s top CFOs are vastly different than their predecessors because the CFO role itself has changed so dramatically over the last few decades. What used to be a strictly numbers-based executive financial role, has now evolved into a pivotal leadership position that touches numerous areas of the company including HR, IT, operations, manufacturing, sales, and marketing. And this sweeping change has ushered in a shift in what is expected of a CFO’s skillset as well. The most salient difference is how today’s CFOs are required to utilize technology. CFOs are expected to be well versed in technology options for streamlining operations, meeting business needs, informing strategic decision making, and maximizing growth. As a result, tech proficiency has become the single most newly sought after skill when hiring a new CFO.”
While existing executive leadership at a company may have strong preferences related to in-person/remote/hybrid work, they will need to balance these desires with their top candidates’ expectations. It is perfectly fine to go into a CFO search with a predetermined position on how the organization will handle the question of work flexibility and then adapt that perspective in response to feedback from top candidates. Being flexible can ensure that the organization matches the best person with the role instead of trying to fit a candidate into a role that is not entirely what they want.
When you need to hire a CFO, reach out to our team of finance executive recruiters. We have a highly experienced team ready to help you find a candidate that is the right fit for your needs, even if they are not currently looking for a new role. If the idea of hiring right now is too daunting, or your organization does not have the budget to bring on a full-time hire to check all your boxes, we also offer CFO consulting services to provide top-notch financial expertise on a fractional basis. Reach out to us today for more information!