It’s summer time and Caroline Stockmann — the former head of global business planning at Novartis, a $37 billion (€25.4 billion) Swiss pharmaceuticals company — is trying to relax in Italy during a family holiday with her husband, Michael, and two children, two-year-old Liam and eight-year-old Rebecca. Her mind, however, is on what the future holds for her career.
Stockmann, previously CFO of Unilever Thailand, resigned from Novartis in March. Since then, while still working through her notice period, the 45-year-old British expat has been shuttling between Basel and London for interviews with recruiters, sending out CVs and working the phones. “It’s an uncomfortable experience wondering whether you’ll find the right job, and if you hold out for it, whether a resulting gap in the CV would look bad,” she says. “But you just have to keep calm and keep going.”
Over in Belgium, 47-year-old Wim Van der Smissen — a former Unilever colleague of Stockmann’s — has a different attitude towards his job search. After a 23-year career in finance — all at Unilever, a €40 billion Anglo-Dutch consumer goods company — Van der Smissen left his role as CFO of its Belgian operations and has taken four months off to decide what to do next before getting into job-hunting mode.
Across the Channel in London’s Canary Wharf, Tamara Singh, 27, is also looking forward to taking time out. Though the trade control analyst at BP Oil International handed in her resignation in August, she decided to stay on until the end of the year to help complete an SAP implementation project because she didn’t want to leave her colleagues “high and dry.” She’s been an analyst at BP’s trading desk for just under two years but she wants to broaden her horizons and get experience in another industry. By the start of the new year, she’ll be cruising around South America for a couple of months on a second honeymoon with her husband, a banker in London, ending up in Rio de Janeiro at carnival time. Singh has deliberately kept her job search low-key until she gets back because she knows she won’t be available for work until then.
Then there’s 29-year-old Mark Laine-Toner. He spent seven-and-a-half years working his way through finance at J Sainsbury, a £17 billion (€24 billion) UK supermarket chain, becoming regional financial controller. Now he has set his sights on a finance director’s post. But there’s an important gap in his CV — he has no experience in group finance. If he wants to gain that experience at Sainsbury, he has to move from Leeds in the north of England, where he lives with his girlfriend, to its London headquarters. But his girlfriend doesn’t want to move. “We’ve talked about commuting or whether I could spend weekdays in London, but that would probably destroy my relationship and my job isn’t worth that,” says Laine-Toner. “So increasingly I’m seeing that I’m going to have to go externally.”
Though at various rungs of the career ladder, Stockmann, Van der Smissen, Singh and Laine-Toner all are entering the job market at a time when they’ll be in high demand. Globally, 56% of CFOs report having difficulty finding good job candidates, according to recruiter Robert Half International’s latest report on the finance job market. That figure is even higher in many parts of Europe, including Italy, Luxembourg and Spain. Why the difficulty? Ian Graves, Paris-based managing director of continental Europe and the Middle East at RHI, says Sarbanes-Oxley, IFRS and other changes in finance-related regulations have created unprecedented demand for finance professionals with experience of compliance — 64% of respondents to RHI’s research cited this as their most sought-after area of expertise — and candidates with that knowledge are in short supply. “We’re also seeing the baby-boom decline, which means there aren’t enough people coming through to fill the gap,” says Graves.