If you have been in your current CFO seat for more than four years, you will most likely be making a job change this year (or early next).
Regardless of your tenure, you want to be the one calling the shots in this transition — not your new CEO or the board — and you don’t want to be held hostage solely to the opportunities presented to you by executive search firms. But, more importantly, you need to ask yourself some fundamental questions regarding how much satisfaction you are getting out of your current job.
For whatever reason, the two functions where I most often find mid-career executives in the midst of an existential career crisis are finance and legal. This is partly due to the nature of how these two functions are educated. You rarely find a CFO with a degree in English or history, but you can point to a number of CEOs who have liberal arts degrees.
Finance and accounting majors generally pursue careers within the function. And, while it eliminates some of the frustration that liberal arts majors encounter after graduating from college, it also eliminates much of the self-exploration that such graduates undergo as they find their place in the business world. As a consequence, it’s not unusual for me to hear 15- to 20-year finance professionals say they aren’t thrilled with how their career has gone thus far.
If your career path doesn’t naturally lead you to this type of self exploration, you may find yourself needing to create the crisis yourself to avoid this trap. So, how can you then take control of your career?
First and foremost, have an understanding of what you want. Ask yourself “What am I not getting in my current job?” and “What am I getting too much of?” These are questions we don’t ask ourselves nearly enough. We are overworked, overstressed with too much tied to the day-to-day needs to take a step back and look at our careers over a longer time horizon.
Frankly, just the thought of starting this type of self- investigation can be daunting to most. However, if you’re not deriving an appropriate amount of career satisfaction, it’s essential. A good career coach usually is a wise investment in this process, if for no other reason than to provide you with the discipline to actually do it. If not a professional coach, then certainly enlist a mentor or professional colleague as a confidante. The key is to find a way to connect your career experience and the skill set you’ve built to a related but more satisfying opportunity.
Here are five questions to keep in mind throughout your self-investigation:
- What are you passionate about? It may be helpful to begin expanding your knowledge in areas where you have the most interest. If you are interested in the subject or topic, you most likely will be eager to spend the time to learn more, and thus will naturally be good at it.
- What areas do you need to improve? If there is a functional area that is not one of your strengths, partner with a colleague or a person outside of your company who specializes in that function. Talk to him or her, volunteer for a project or get involved on a committee that may provide some additional perspective or knowledge in this area.
- What specific areas in your business are expanding? How can you become more involved? Volunteer for a project or task force, or research a new business idea. You will most likely get to know new colleagues or form stronger relationships with existing ones. Take initiative. Learn how your competitors are approaching this business issue. You will not only expand your own knowledge but you may also make yourself more valuable to your organization.
- Whom do you admire? How can you learn from that person? Most people would be flattered if you told them you admire them. Take them out for coffee or lunch. Ask them questions. Try to learn about how their career has developed over time and determine if there are some examples that may resonate with you.
- Which professional workshops or conferences can help you? Is there a conference or workshop that sounds interesting to you? Network with others to determine if the speakers are well-respected and have something worthwhile to share. You most likely will walk away with a few new pieces of knowledge and newly formed relationships to add to your network.
As managers, we should be asking these questions of our staff members and teams, but are we also asking them of ourselves? How do we continue to expand our knowledge, add to our network and enhance our skill sets?
We often say that we are too busy and lack the time needed to devote to anything new. However, we also know the answer to that dilemma. We don’t have the time, but we need to make the time. It pays off in the long run.
John Touey is a principal at executive search firm Salveson Stetson Group with 20 years of experience providing executive search, human resources and management consulting services to organizations in the healthcare, financial services, utilities, manufacturing and pharmaceutical industries. Follow him @JohnTouey.