More Questions from Finance Recruiters

One recruiter refers to his interview notes later, when checking references, to "see how big the delta is" between the candidate's self-appraisal and the word on the Street.

Whatever the season, executive recruiters don’t hesitate to throw hardball questions — and not only about finance. One recruiter likes to compare a candidate’s self-opinion with the assessment on the Street; another prefers to probe just what the candidate really wants from a new position. At your next interview, you’d better be ready for the curves as well as the high, hard ones.

Peter Crist

Chairman, Crist Associates
One of this recruiter’s favorite questions is designed specifically for aspiring chief financial officers: “You are going to be announced tomorrow as the CFO of a publicly traded company, and you are allowing me to call the analysts that cover you and your current boss: What do I hear? What’s the book on you?”

This hypothetical question investigates the candidate’s self-perception; it also probes how well he or she manages relationships with Wall Street. And it puts the candidate on record, in anticipation that Crist will be checking references later. “If we ever get to the point of a deal,” he continues, “I will refer back to my notes to see what the candidate told me the boss thinks of them and what the Street thinks of them, and I’ll see how big the delta is between the reality and the candidate’s own opinion.”

Another favorite in his toolkit: “What’s your personal balance sheet?”

Crist explains that he tries “to determine the personal financial situation of a candidate relative to how much they need to work, how long they will work, and how hard they will work.” Wealth is relative, he notes: “Many [candidates] we deal with have gone through events — for example, takeovers, the sale of a company, or an IPO. One person’s million dollars of wealth is distinctly different from another person’s 30 million dollars of wealth, and this has a direct impact on a person’s interest and willingness to work.”

Stephen Mader

Vice chairman, Christian & Timbers
“What would cause you to make a change in roles today if you saw the right opportunity?” Mader likes to ask. “How would you evaluate the opportunity? And what would you want to achieve personally from your next professional commitment?”

The most desirable candidates have a more sophisticated purpose behind their desire for a new position than merely looking for a new challenge. “Good leaders can express their objectives well and have spent time on determining their priorities,” says Mader. “One of the biggest failure mechanisms in leadership changes is missed expectations.”

Joel von Ranson

Partner, Spencer Stuart
Candidates for executive finance positions all have a certain base of expertise, observes von Ranson. His favorite question aims to identify above-average financial mastery: “Have you helped design a new or different performance metric? If so, please describe it.”

It’s one thing to know financial concepts cold; it’s another to know them well enough that you can use them as a basis for problem-solving and innovation. “I’m impressed by candidates who recognize that the financial ‘dashboard’ of management reports can always be refined as the needs of the organization evolve,” explains von Ranson. “It provides insight into his or her thought process to see how he or she identified a new and better way to measure performance and to help the business make quality decisions.”

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