Cold, Cruel World

Suddenly, CFOs who are pounding the pavement find that fewer doors are opening. Here's how to get that foot back in.

Paramore counts his online presence as a boon, at least in terms of landing interviews. Two of the five opportunities he pursued came through people who had found him online. LinkedIn, in particular, was key to “being found,” he says, while his Website added context once he landed interviews because it illustrates his broader business philosophies and some of his work experience.

What wasn’t helpful? Online job sites, online job applications, and efforts to “cold-call” contacts through e-mail. “If I made the contact, they had absolutely no interest in me unless they knew me already,” Paramore says, noting that he experimented by applying for jobs with many companies, just to see if he would get a response. He didn’t. “It was like sending your résumé into oblivion.”

Ironically, however, Paramore’s two job offers — and the job he ultimately chose, as controller of a large plant for Webster Industries — came the old-fashioned way, through business contacts he had made prior to his job search.

So what’s a finance executive in transition to do? We asked several experts for the latest thinking on how to tap the power of social networking.

Profile Encouragement: Less May Be More

Many experts recommend that CFOs have a strong presence on LinkedIn, as it is one of the most popular online directories for the business community. But how do you define strong?

A clean, crisp profile, for starters. “In the analog world, you don’t want an overloaded résumé that is too ‘salesy.’ It’s the same thing on LinkedIn,” says Chuck Eldridge, a recruiter with Korn/Ferry International who specializes in financial executive searches. In some cases, he says, “all I need is a name and title”; ornaments like objectives and references are not particularly helpful to recruiters, since “you don’t really get to know someone until you talk with them.” In fact, he says he automatically discounts LinkedIn references and asks for candidates to supply references directly to him.

Beefing up your profile in specific ways can also be a good idea. Cindy Kraft, an executive coach who specializes in working with CFOs, recommends that finance executives upload to their LinkedIn profiles any slide decks, videos, or other material they may have from presentations they’ve given. “Those will help position you as an expert,” she says, and will be easily found through Google searches.

Kraft also advises creating a Google profile with an associated Gmail account in the version of your name that you normally go by (for example, Ben rather than Benjamin if most people know you by a shorter form of your given name) and reviewing any information that may be posted about you on Ziggs and ZoomInfo. Make corrections when necessary.

A number of online networking options that are specific to CFOs are emerging, including Mycfonetwork.com, Proformative, and various LinkedIn groups, like The CFO Network. (Participation in some of these is by invitation only.) “These types of groups are a really good place to practice social-networking skills, without being too visible,” notes Kraft.

CFOs can certainly create a more public presence as well, be it by developing their own Websites or becoming power users of Facebook and Twitter. But for the most part, experts say that such activities aren’t necessary to finance-focused job searches. The one major benefit may be that such steps allow a candidate to offer the broadest possible picture of him- or herself. “When you’re up against two or three similarly qualified candidates, it comes down to likability,” says Kraft. “Done well, a Facebook page can be a tool that you use to attract those right opportunities to you, and show that you understand the generation coming up,” since the people reporting to the CFO will typically be much more entrenched in such media.

Don’t Neglect In-Person Networking

Finally, don’t expect an online presence to help recruiters find you, except indirectly through other contacts you might encounter online. “LinkedIn is a useful tool, but it’s not yet a game-changer,” says Eldridge. He says he “absolutely” wouldn’t count it against candidates if they aren’t marketing themselves digitally. “It raises the curiosity factor, to be sure,” he says, but “it doesn’t make a difference in the final decision” of whether or not to present a candidate.

And while social networks can connect you around the globe, in many cases local contacts prove the most valuable. Craig Williams, a former executive recruiter and founder of Mycfonetwork.com, says the appeal of his invitation-only site is that it is city-specific, allowing for a blend of online and offline interaction. The organization, launched about 10 months ago with six cities, has since grown to eight and is likely to add several more in the coming months. Dallas, with about 600 members, currently has the largest following.

The local focus works well for many job-seekers, he notes, since “most CFOs want to reach out to their community first, before they consider relocating.”
— Alix Stuart

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