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Interview Tips For CFO’s

I’ve been a retained search consultant now for four years after being a public company CFO for 17 years and thought I would share some observations and tips with you in regards to the interview process in the hopes that it helps you land your dream job. This article will focus on the actual interview process so after your profile or resume has already been submitted to the hiring company and they are bringing you in to interview. There is a lot of ground to cover on this topic but I want to focus on just a few items in this brief article. I know some of this will seem very basic to many of you but I’ve been surprised by how some of this “basic” approach has been ignored by candidates in an interview process to their demise. The list of tips is as follows:

GET EDUCATED – Take time to learn about the company, the role, and the people with whom you will be meeting with during your interview. Companies spend a lot of money on their website and usually have a wealth of information posted in terms of their product or service lines, their strategy, their history, their management team and Board of Directors, their culture and if they are public all their financial information. There is simply no excuse for going into an interview without you having spent a good deal of your time on studying this information.

I’ve had candidates kicked out of processes even after they have been advised to study the web-site because the company did not feel they had bothered to look at this information. This lack of effort sends a very strong signal that the candidate isn’t really interested in the opportunity with that company. The hiring company certainly doesn’t expect you to be an expert in their business but they want to know that you are interested enough in them to have gotten somewhat educated about who they are and what they do. I advise candidates to ask questions during their interviews around content posted on their web-site to each person you meet with as that telegraphs to them you are interested in the company and the opportunity.

And if you go in for multiple interviews, make sure you look up press releases so you are up to date with anything that may have transpired at the company from the last time you met with them. Also look up the people you will meet with on LinkedIn to see if you have any commonalities or connections.

ANSWER SUCCINCTLY BUT WITH CONTEXT – Let’s face it, CFO’s are usually a bit more reserved and don’t usually like to have the spotlight on them for too long. As a result they can tend to answer in short brief responses but in an interview process that can hurt them. Use the STAR method of answering a question about a particular accomplishment of yours. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result:

  • Situation – what was the event, project or challenge faced i.e. what was the context of the issue? It could be the company you’re interviewing is in the same boat and therefore your story and result will really resonate with them.
  • Task – What was your responsibility and assignment to address the Situation? This is the time to focus on what YOU did and how YOU drove results. Lot’s of CFO’s view this is being a bit of a braggart but this is the time to blow your horn with humbleness in that you know it takes a team to get things accomplished but you were the leader.
  • Actions – what were the steps you/the team took to fix the problem
  • Result – what were the sustainable results

Essentially, a STAR response is a way to provide a context around your accomplishment so the hiring authority can better understand and hopefully relate to that situation.

FOCUS ON ACCOMPLISHMENTS – I work with PE firms a good amount and I typically see them very interested in what a CFO has done with regards to (1) process improvement, (2) improved KPI/Metrics reporting both in terms of identifying better metrics(both operational and financial) as well as the speed with which those monthly results are being presented to executive management, (3) ability to provide accurate and timely forecasts, (4) the ability to build trusted relationships with senior leaders outside of finance and to become the trusted source of all things financial and (5) the ability to be the person who can tell another function they can’t make an investment in such a way that they continue to respect you and keep you in the loop on their piece of the business i.e. they don’t get pissed off and break a relationship with you.

KNOW THEIR PAIN POINTS – Most companies are looking for a new CFO to solve 3-4 key problems or challenges. Make sure you are very clear as to what those pain points are so as you are speaking to them you can align your accomplishments through the STAR method such that it becomes clear to them that you’ve been there and done that and can immediately help them. Unfortunately, this information doesn’t always come through in the job description but hopefully your recruiter will be able to tell you the must-haves for the company.

BE PREPARED AND MANAGE YOUR TIME – I spend a lot of time prepping candidates for interviews based on prep sessions I’ve had with the company as to how they will conduct the interview, what questions they will ask, what they are looking for, etc. However it doesn’t always go as planned. It could be that the people they will be meeting with changes or gets shortened.

My point is be prepared for whatever happens. Role play that with your recruiter or with yourself before you go in for the meeting. And be prepared to answer the “What is your Weakness” question. Definitely role-play that one! You need to be at the top of your game during these meetings so that’s what I mean to Be Prepared.

With regards to Managing Your Time the interviews are often 30 or 45 minutes long so come in to the meeting with your key accomplishments ready to be laid out in the STAR method that are aligned with the Pain Points the company is facing and make sure you have the time to discuss those accomplishments. I’ve seen examples where the chemistry is so good between you, the candidate and the CEO that you shoot the breeze for 25 minutes in a 30 minute interview and then you get pressed for time. Don’t let that happen, it’s up to you to manage the process in the time you have allotted.

Hopefully these tips will help you land that perfect CFO role that allows you to retire after 5 years! I will be writing some more on interview tips but these are the ones I wanted to start with. Please let me know if you agree or disagree or have other topics you would like to see addressed.

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