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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.

Wolfe quotes Yogi Berra, who remains as famous for his odd-ball, but oddly true, sayings as for his skills as a Yankees catcher: "The future ain't what it used to be."

"That's really true now," Wolfe says. While past performance has long been viewed as an indicator of future performance, that is no longer a given. Markets, jobs and corporate cultures all change at a much faster pace than ever before, which means that the skills that really matter are things like able decision making, problem solving and adaptability.

"If someone tells me that they turned around an organization that was in the red and now they are in the black, I want to know how did they do that as much as what they did. How did they solve certain problems? How did they get information they needed and how did they use it? Did they use logic or jump to conclusions? Did they use past experience versus being open-minded?"

To get at those sorts of in-depth responses, interviewers have to keep probing. "Interviewers tend to stop when they hear the right answer," he says. "But what I'm looking for is to have someone tell me what some of the challenges were during that process, were you able to repeat that, did other departments repeat that success? I can go into an interview with one question and keep asking more questions about that question."

As Bishop puts it: "One part is here's the self-starter mode -- here's enthusiasm and creativity. But then here's the side that says I know that it takes other people, so here's how I lead with my own creativity and yet invite the collaborative spirit."

Answers to those questions will also help a CFO get a feel for whether the candidate is a good fit for the company's culture -- assessing that was a key mentioned repeatedly by CFOs in interviews, and is especially critical for smaller companies.

"It's very difficult for small companies to thrive. If you have one bad employee it can really hinder your success," says Zoovy CFO Tom Saftig. "In a large company, one employee out of a thousand won't make much difference, but in a smaller company one out of 10 or 20 can really hurt you."

That's where a CFO might consider Wolfe's question of whether the job candidate seems to be an able "firefighter," as a means of determining if the person will fit with a company's culture.

Says he: "You might not want someone good at extinguishing the most recent fire, but someone who is good at not letting them get started in the first place."


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