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Hiring insights from, and for, CFOs

Nancy Weil | Feb. 17, 2011
With the economy continuing to pick up steam, industry surveys and analysts are predicting an attendant uptick in hiring for financial positions, including CFOs. While CFOs themselves could be changing jobs, they also are increasingly more likely to be doing some hiring.

"The standard check-the-box interview answer says that somebody doesn't know what they're talking about," says Opera Solutions CFO Rob Bothe. "I look to have a conversation and it doesn't have to be this standard interview format."

Background checks and a review of candidate résumés and other information will determine whether someone has relevant experience, software skills and the like to handle the job in question, so interviews should focus instead on "what if" sorts of scenarios, CFOs and interviewing experts say.

"Ask them to come up with a time in their life when they had a problem that needed collaboration or cooperation with other people and ask them how they went about working with that," says business consultant Russell Bishop. "Of course, what I'm looking for in my mind is a two-part sort of question -- one is 'what did you do on your own' and the other is 'what did you do to influence other folks.'"

Bishop's most recent book, "Workarounds that Work," is a primer on how to deal with stumbling blocks at work, aimed at helping employees to stop pointing fingers at others when things can't get done or don't get done. Figuring out whether a job candidate has the skills to both work with others but also work around roadblocks in creative, can-do ways is key, he says.

He also emphasizes the need to focus on accountability, to be on guard for any signs that a candidate plays the blame game, as well as to watch for those who will admit to mistakes but also trumpet their successes.

"Bad-mouthing former employers, companies, bosses and/or fellow employees" is an immediate red flag for VBrick CFO Paul Hallee. "If a candidate can't hold themselves accountable for what's happened in the past, that's not an individual I seek to work with. That just tells me someday I'll be your next excuse."

But the job interviewer also has to watch out for mistakes they might make in the process, suggests Wolfe. Among those is the need to ask very specific questions and to not rely too heavily on standard interview queries.

"I've got thousands of questions [to use in interviews] and I've got my favorite ones. The candidate may give a great response and they may be a talented [prospective] employee, but that question may not be as relevant for one position or one team or another."

He recommends that interviewers keep in mind what it is that they want someone they hire to have achieved at the end of a specific period -- say, six months. "At the end of that period, what do you want them to have accomplished and what skills do they need to get there?"


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