5 Tips from the Trenches to Elevate Your CFO Recruiting Process from Good to Great

We have recruited hundreds of CFOs and financial leaders for PE and VC backed companies and we are committed to helping our clients achieve “best in class” results in their executive recruiting process. There are foundational elements which are vital to achieve a successful CFO hire, including creating an appealing position marketing piece; screening with an emphasis on cultural/chemistry fit; aligning compensation targets with market based on the role and the strategic plan; etc.

Beyond this foundation though, there are strategic and tactical aspects of your search and hiring process that will impact the ultimate outcome. Not focusing on these elements can derail your chance with promising prospects or cause you to lose a great prospect in the process for a bad reason. The following are five key insights from our experience that can elevate the result of your hire process from good to great.

1. Keep the ball moving down the field – Once you have selected candidates you wish to move forward, develop an interviewing process that creates positive momentum. Instilling a sense of urgency in your candidate interviewing process heightens the candidate’s impression of being wanted as well as their positive feelings towards you and the company. When a process moves slowly over weeks/ months, candidates can develop negative impressions. Sometimes there are good reasons for delays, which we will manage. However, inefficiency or a lack of urgency can really hurt you with strong prospects, increasing the probability they will withdraw and pursue other opportunities or continue in the process with concerns that must be overcome.

2. Have a vision as to your “ideal” candidate and be open to alternatives – We pursue executives who fit tightly with the ‘spec’ as to targeted skillsets, career and industry experience, comparable company size, etc. We also like to introduce candidates who maybe do not check all the boxes but bring a skillset, drive, experience and an “it” factor that actually may change your initial vision as to “ideal”. Ultimately the right selection is the individual you feel will be your best business partner to achieve the strategic plan. The individual you select may not be the person you initially believed would be a fit but is actually the absolute right choice.

3. Tell a compelling story and “sell” from Day 1– It can be off-putting to our clients when we advise them to place more emphasis on “selling” the opportunity and the company. Our clients sometimes spend those important early candidate interviews in the weeds, discussing details of a recruit’s resume and experience. The ability to perform the role should be a given. A high caliber executive recruiting firm will present you with candidate due diligence, enabling you to greatly minimize time spent discussing fit as to role requirements. It is better to focus strategically on the company and its future. Highly skilled CFOs will “invest” their career based on their perception as to the vision and their role in its achievement.

Not every executive can energize a recruit or tell a strong, attractive story. Be realistic. Ensure the first few interviews with a candidate are with company execs who can. Additionally, your executive recruiter can help you review/redact company materials such as CIM’s, org charts, analyses, and exhibits, etc. to provide rich company insights to a candidate. All of this can result in a more fully engaged candidate and help the overall process be successful.

4. Ensure that the candidate is the right person for the next few legs of the relay: We believe the proper way to view the role is to start from the end (achieving the strategic plan) and work to the beginning (current state), and then to start from the beginning and work to the end. Both the beginning and the end are important, as well as everything in between. It’s easy to see and react to the failings of a current executive or emphasize immediate and shorter-term needs. The goal is to achieve the strategic plan, which requires successful performance in every phase ahead. Avoid the temptation to hire a sprinter for what is likely to be a marathon.

5. Remember the world is small – Transparent communication will avoid speed bumps and potholes in a search. Two common topics: (1) If you are replacing an executive, have a plan as to when you communicate this to him/her. Carefully weigh the benefits of delaying this conversation with the risk of lost credibility if the executive finds out from a third party. (2) Back-channel reference checks on candidates before their approval can be counterproductive. It is tempting, but risky and can often be detrimental to a relationship, or to your reputation on social media. It is best to always get the candidate’s permission. Everyone expects these calls to happen when an offer is approaching. Be respectful of the candidate. At the end of the day trust is paramount and your CFO needs to feel they are a respected business partner.

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Harvest CFO is The Premier CFO recruiting partner delivering the right permanent and interim CFOs for private equity and venture capital portfolio companies. Let’s discuss the CFO needs in your Portcos. Call Don Hillier, Managing Director and CEO at 216-609-3033 or email dhillier@harvestcfo.com.

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