The Happy Wanderer

The secret to landing a job? Well-traveled CFO Doug Johnson says it's crucial to be up front about your strengths and weaknesses.

In fact, [at Softlock] I had just raised $15 million, so in some respects, the fact that they ran out of money shows that I was right. There was plenty of money left in the bank when I left.

How do you explain your employment history when you’re interviewing for a new job?

I’ve interviewed with CEOs who think that if you haven’t been at a company for at least 10 years there’s something wrong with you. Well, they’re obviously not going to hire me, and I’m not going to waste time worrying about the fact they’re not going to hire me. They’re simply looking for something different.

I try to convey the type of CFO that I am. I’m not an accounting CFO; I’m not somebody who just closes the books and does numbers. I do have a CPA background, but accounting is not my strongest point. So I work to have a very strong controller who sets up the control environment in the office, behind me. I’m an external CFO. I like to spend much of my time outside the office giving talks, going to meet investors, and meeting customers.

I try to get that across to the CEO early on, because if I don’t and he’s expecting something different from a CFO, then we’re not going to have the right relationship. I need him to understand where I can add the most value. If he’s looking for just a really strong accountant, he should go hire a really strong accountant. I’m the outside guy.

How do you communicate your skills as the outside guy, given that you’re talking about more intangible things than the hard numbers that most CFOs talk about?

I do talk about the businesses I’ve been with—the growth in revenues they’ve had, and the amount of money I’ve raised. But I think it’s more important to be able to build relationships, which takes time. If a CEO is looking to do a 45-minute interview and make a decision, we’re probably not a right fit for each other. We need to talk for a longer period of time and really get a good feel for whether we could work well together.

During your time at Thinq, the company’s IT department has gone from reporting to the CIO to reporting to the CFO. Do you consider this an asset or a liability?

Actually, IT has reported to me at nearly every company I’ve worked for. One of the reasons I like keeping it is that IT is really about understanding what technology a company needs in order to be efficient—and recognizing that sometimes putting in a new technology doesn’t help. So I think having someone who’s not a technologist to oversee IT is a benefit.

Keeping up with the changes in IT is probably the most difficult thing to do. I need to read about the industry and about the business, and I just don’t have the time to do detailed analyses of the thousands of technologies out there. So I try really hard to have a good director of IT or VP of technology and let that person teach me.

Given your past experience at landing jobs, what advice can you offer CFOs who may be looking for a job now?

Networking is by far the best way to find a job. Nearly all of my positions have come from networking. I just call a list of people I know and I get each of them to refer me to at least 3 people. I then call those people and get 3 more names from each of them. You might talk with 300 or 400 people, but in the end it pays off.

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