Wanted: Strategic CFOs. Again.

The skills companies value in finance leaders continue to shift with the times, with strategic acumen now edging past capital-markets experience, headhunters tell the crowd at CFO Rising.

Langhoff: One mistake people make when sending a résumé to a recruiter is to copy the entire firm. That does not endear you to a recruiter. Send it to the right person. Because I have a consumer background [as a former CFO of Pepsi Bottling], a lot of sales and marketing folks send me e-mails. But I’m never going to cover those people, so it’s a wasted effort. Also, be helpful when recruiters call and ask if you know anyone they should talk to in their search for someone with a certain background to join XYZ Company. If you help us, we’re going to remember that.

McLean
: If you don’t know a recruiter, find an intermediary who will provide an introduction for you. It works every time. If I get a call from someone I know and respect who referred somebody to me, I will always return the call.

A good exercise is to tell a recruiter the five things you’re good at, the five things you like to do, and five places where you’d like to live. That helps a recruiter think about you in the appropriate fashion.

Are there any geographical job-search guidelines?

Heid: We often see people who have lost their jobs and say they can’t move. In this economic environment, if that is absolutely the case, take a defined time frame, like three to six months, and really penetrate your area. If you don’t find something, you absolutely need to expand your geography. You do not want to be out of the market for more than a year. You may get a little bit of a grace period right now because the economy has been so weak, but quite honestly, I have clients who say they don’t want to see anybody who’s unemployed. I do push back and explain that there are a lot of people who are unemployed for the right reasons, like their company was bought. But if you have a job and want to make a move, stay employed.

Do you recommend to CFOs that as part of raising their profile they should talk to the press?

McLean
: I think that is a very effective way to get some visibility. It highlights what you’ve been able to accomplish.

What are the chances of moving to a larger organization?

Heid: People who have been in smaller companies tend to have worn many hats, so in many cases they are broader in their experience base. You’re not going to go from a $20 million company to a $2 billion company, but you can certainly move up the food chain.

What are the trends in pay packages?

Heid: We’ve seen base salaries continue to escalate. The biggest difference is in variable compensation, both long term and short term. It’s much more tied to performance, as opposed to just the passage of time. Certainly the long-term equity is tied to very explicit metrics, whether they be cash-flow generation, EBITDA, or whatever is important to the company. Another thing we’ve seen is that the perks that once existed are really going out of vogue. A company doesn’t want to have to file an 8-K saying they bought the CFO a country-club membership.

Langhoff: The bump-up you get from moving to a new company has begun to shrink. We have clients who feel that because of the economy, they can lowball somebody. So if someone was making $200,000, the new employer is thinking, well, he’s out of work right now, so I’ll offer $180,000 and I’m not going to budge. This also impacts what I call “wealth on the table” — if you have unvested stock options or restricted stock units, the new company may look to give that a haircut. They may think they don’t have to compensate you dollar for dollar.

McLean
: The A-players are always going to be able to demand what they’re worth. You don’t have to give up very much, if anything, if you bring what the company really wants.

 

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