Recruiters’ perspectives on your path to becoming a CFO.
We recently switched up our Path to Becoming a CFO event. Instead of hosting a conversation with a high-profile CFO, we turned to two rock star recruiters who have placed CFOs into some of the most high-profile venture-backed companies in the market. Our audience signed up to learn about the role that recruiters play on the path to becoming a CFO, and what they look for when selecting talent.
The session was a fascinating inside look at the recruiting process with plenty of advice for aspiring CFOs. You can download the whole session here.
The first of our two panelists, Rhoda Longhenry, Partner and Global Head of Financial Officers Practice at True Search, has been in executive search for over 16 years. She began her career in investment banking, which gives her a unique perspective on the needs of a company and candidates' qualifications.
Jen Holmstrom, Head of Talent at GGV Capital, was our second panelist. She has been in recruiting roles for most of her 20+ year career, including inside executive search positions at Facebook and Highland Capital Partners. In her current role, she works to identify key talent for GGV Capital's portfolio companies.
Thejo Kote, Airbase Founder and CEO, started the session by asking the panelists to describe the difference between a VP of Finance and CFO.
A matter of focus: Differences between VP Finance and CFO roles.
Rhoda explained that a VP of Finance focuses on accounting operations. They take a more tactical approach, primarily for companies that already have a strategy in place. A CFO, on the other hand, is first and foremost a business partner to the CEO. They focus more on strategic finance and ROI, while also working on fundraising.
Jen added that one important distinction between the VP of Finance and CFO's roles is that a CFO is typically hired by a company planning to go public within an 18-month window.
The CFO recruitment process.
The hiring process for a CFO can take anywhere from three months to a year and a half. Rhoda explained that after learning about a company and what they are looking for in a CFO, recruiters spend time assessing a broad field of candidates' strengths and weaknesses to make sure they match the company's requirements. It can take around two weeks to get a list of candidates together.
The interview stage usually consists of interviews with the CEO, the Board, and possibly the team; the candidate might also have to complete a strategy project based on the company's 30-60-90 day plan.
Rhoda stresses that even though a CEO would likely want to hire as quickly as possible, there are factors that can slow down the hiring process. These include scheduling conflicts, other priorities, and possibly waiting to interview other candidates.
How to stand out as a candidate.
There are several ways candidates can get their names out there when hoping to be considered for CFO positions. It's essential to keep in mind, Rhoda says, that expectations differ depending on the company's stage. For example, a multi-billion dollar valuation business would be looking for a seasoned CFO. Still, it's also possible that they're open to taking a chance on an up-and-comer. This would be because less experienced candidates tend to have different attitudes and bring fresh ideas to the table.
They outlined some specific steps that an aspiring finance leader can take to prepare to make progress toward a CFO role.
- Optimize your LinkedIn profile.
Recruiters and companies are just as interested in a candidate's experience as they are in the impact they have had on the organizations they've worked for. Job seekers are encouraged to have a high-quality profile, where their qualifications, work history, and longevity at a company are clearly outlined. They should also include details about promotions and what changes they drove to get there. If possible, it's helpful to provide investor names as a reference point.
- Build relationships.
Rule number one: Always call recruiters back. Even if a candidate is not in the market for a new job, returning calls creates a good impression for any future opportunities. Since referrals are highly valued in recruiting, networking events, and re-connecting with acquaintances or former colleagues is also a great way to start building meaningful relationships.
- Demonstrate leadership, including thought leadership.
Having strong leadership skills, such as attracting and assessing talent, is a key element to becoming a CFO. When Thejo asked how important visibility and personal branding is for a candidate, Jen replied that both are something candidates should keep at the top of mind. She recommends speaking on panels and being both a mentor and mentee in order to gain visibility within your professional community and build your personal brand. "Be really good at what you do, but then also associate yourself with great brands of companies and high-growth stories."
Can finance job seekers reach out to recruiters?
The answer is yes! Rhoda and Jen both said that recruiters are always open to connecting with people. What they want candidates to remember, though, is that a recruiter may not be able to get back to them straight away if their skill set isn't what a client is looking for at the moment.
This goes back to our point about relationship building earlier – it’s all the more reason to connect with as many recruiters as possible. Going from a role as VP of Finance, or as any financial professional, to CFO depends on several circumstances. The company's current stage, and both its short- and long-term goals, can determine which qualifications in a candidate would best fit their needs. Financial professionals should consistently work to keep their leadership skills sharp, and network with recruiters and other leaders, to reach their goal of becoming a CFO.
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