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CFO Career Path: How can I set myself apart from my competition?

CFO Career PathMy company might be getting acquired and if that happens, the acquirers won't need another CFO. How can I set myself apart from my CFO competition if I get back into the job hunt? I have great experience, but I know dozens of smart CFOs who, although different than me, also have great experience. What can I do to set myself apart and differentiate?



Topic Expert
Cindy Kraft
Title: CFO Coach
Company: Executive Essentials
(CFO Coach, Executive Essentials) |

First, start immediately. Once you lose your job, you no longer have the power of passive positioning ... and that is huge.

It’s not about experience, it’s about impact. How have you delivered value to the various organizations for whom you’ve worked? How have you solved problems, challenges, issues, and improved negative situations? Lead your value stories from the pain point ... which is why a company is hiring you.

Identify your target audience and then develop a communication plan to get on their radar screen.

And work your network. In a recent survey (and I’ll talk more about this during the March 23 webinar), surveyed CFOs rated networking as their most effective strategy for finding that next opportunity.

I wish you the best!

Jason M. Jones LPA
Title: Client Service Coordinator
Company: Hemphill Wright & Associates CPAs
(Client Service Coordinator, Hemphill Wright & Associates CPAs) |

It's not about experience, it's about impact."

Cindy, this quote is right on the money (no pun intended). As a matter of fact, about the same time you quoted this in your post, I posted this very similar quote on my LinkedIn activity and Twitter feed:

"The key attribute a CFO brings to a business is value through results."

Great minds do indeed think alike. Btw, I gotta use your quote in my next tweet, but I will definitely credit you with the quote.

Sarah Jackson
Title: Associate Editor
Company: Proformative
(Associate Editor, Proformative) |

I would add that being able to speak knowledgeably on a variety of subjects, even those where one may not have a lot of direct experience, can turn an otherwise awkward interview answer into an interesting insight.

Along those lines, one of the great things about Proformative is the free webinar series.

For instance, on October 31 we have:

"Cloud Financial Apps Then and Now: Study Reveals Why CFOs Are Cloud Ready"


Best... Sarah

Topic Expert
Cindy Kraft
Title: CFO Coach
Company: Executive Essentials
(CFO Coach, Executive Essentials) |

Thank you for those kind words, Jason!

Jan Mazyck
Title: Principal
Company: Mazyck Advisors LLC
(Principal, Mazyck Advisors LLC) |

Great response, Cindy.

Topic Expert
Cindy Kraft
Title: CFO Coach
Company: Executive Essentials
(CFO Coach, Executive Essentials) |

Thanks Jan!

Topic Expert
Samuel Dergel
Title: Director - Executive Search
Company: Stanton Chase International
LinkedIn Profile
(Director - Executive Search, Stanton Chase International) |

Great answer Cindy.

In addition to everything Cindy ever has to say on the subject (because she knows her stuff), I would like you to consider one word.


You will be referred because the people that refer you, trust you.

You will be hired because the people that are about to hire you, trust that you will deliver what they need.

You need to build your relationships so that people trust you. You can believe you are as good or better than any other CFO candidate. If you cannot get your network to refer you based on trust and your future employer to hire you based on trust, you will have a very difficult time between jobs.

Good luck. I trust that you will put the right pieces together after doing your homework and following every piece of advice Cindy gives you.


Topic Expert
Cindy Kraft
Title: CFO Coach
Company: Executive Essentials
(CFO Coach, Executive Essentials) |

Thanks Samuel!

That trust word is a great one! And, I personally believe it speaks straight to "authentic branding." You are who you say you are, and you can be trusted to do what you say you'll do because your reputation precedes you.

Topic Expert
Mark Richards
Title: VP Operations and Finance
Company: VP / CFO - Private Company
(VP Operations and Finance, VP / CFO - Private Company) |

First, a detour, then I get to the search. For the acquiring company, you have a good amount of institutional knowledge - not just about the financials, but the company. If you ever considered stepping into a non-financial role - this might be a good opportunity.

For the search, what's the best pitch to set you apart? The one that the reader understands on how it meets what they want (or what makes their life better/easier).

Approach your search like making a sale - people don't buy your product, they buy what your product does for them.

I'll lay out the big pieces below, then what I recommend it that you tap the content of Proformative to give you ideas on how to approach.

Before you start, there is a webinar "Job Search Basics" that covers the expectations you should take into search. Also, take time with people who are either currently in search or recently finished - they can give you a real sense of the market, especially for the companies/industries of interest. How many people are in the market, how tightly do companies stay to their requirements, movement of finance professionals, what recruiters are active.

1) Understand your skills and experience - where can you perform and what roles do you realistically fit. If you have trouble with this step, this is when a coach or outsourcing firm can help you.

2) Understand the needs of the different companies you are considering - to be able to show you meet their needs and have relevant experience to back up your claim, you start with their needs - then figure out what you have that fits.

3) Documents - There are three that are critical to an effective search: Resume, Marketing Plan (1 pager used in networking) and Targeted Company list. The last two serve to help your networking contacts help you (both of these are in Resources).

4) Networking - The purpose of networking is to get to the hiring manager(s) and each meeting, event, etc. should serve toward moving you closer. If you can't identify how it does, then make the connection or event a lower priority. (For networking, start with the blog posts "#1 Networking Rule - Practicing the 80% Rule" and "Roadmap to the Hiring Manager").

5) Networking follow-up - This is where all the action really takes place, so decide how you will track all of the follow-up items - this is what separate the effective job seekers from the rest of the pack.

6) Interviewing skills - Give equal weight to both asking and answering questions. Use "10 Questions to Understand a Company" to help organize your thoughts and identify where you need to learn more. You want to use the interview as 'discussion', instead of 'discovery'. As for what questions they will ask you - go back to #2 - they will want to see how you can solve their issues.

7) Saying Thanks and Giving back to your network - Like chance favors the prepared mind, opportunities favor those with solid networks. Take time every week to say thanks or figure how to making a relevant connection for your network.

8) Keep Your Psyche Strong - a strong psyche is as important as a strong resume. The networking/resume gets you in the door, but it's your presence that closes the sale. If your confidence starts to slide, that's when your family and friends come into play.

Best of luck,


Topic Expert
Regis Quirin
Title: Director of Finance
Company: Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP
LinkedIn Profile
(Director of Finance, Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP) |

Wow. All great ideas and I agree with all of them. But, let me throw my two cents into the stream. The most powerful way you can differentiate yourself from the competition is your current knowledge. When you look at all of the regulation that has evolved in the last five years it is mind boggling. The economic landscape has changed dramatically. Companies need CFO's that can develop and articulate strategy in the new environment.

If I am faced with two candidates, both with similar background and experiences, I will pick the one with the most updated knowledge base..every time.

There are many ways to enhance your knowledge which include - certifications, degrees, webinars, training courses..

" Knowledge has to be improved, challenged, and increased constantly, or it vanishes." Peter Drucker

Good luck.

Topic Expert
Samuel Dergel
Title: Director - Executive Search
Company: Stanton Chase International
LinkedIn Profile
(Director - Executive Search, Stanton Chase International) |


From my point of view, knowledge comes more from experience than from a course or a certificate.

Early in my executive search career, I was working to hire a key person for a CFO. In working to secure the person to come on board for my client, the CFO was in selling mode. He really believed that the opportunity presented at his company was going to make a big difference to this new hire.

The CFO said: "As CFO, I need to dig into my 'bag of tricks' from time to time to know what to do in a certain situation. I can call on this experience because I've dealt with it before." He said to the potential employee "This opportunity will provide you with plenty of tricks to add to your bag which you will need when you become CFO".

For an experienced CFO, knowledge is not a book, but a bag.


Topic Expert
Cindy Kraft
Title: CFO Coach
Company: Executive Essentials
(CFO Coach, Executive Essentials) |

Well thanks, Jason!

Regis, I would just say that if a candidate can't show how his "knowledge" translates to quantifiable impacts to the organization, his knowledge really doesn't matter ... regardless of whether the knowledge came through books or OTJT.

Companies are looking for problem solvers, and the proof of your ability to solve problems in the "way" you solved them, the measurable difference it made to the organization (bottom line), and how you positioned it to do something they could not otherwise have done.

Topic Expert
Regis Quirin
Title: Director of Finance
Company: Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP
LinkedIn Profile
(Director of Finance, Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP) |

Sam/Cindy - Experience is incredibly important, but it is not the sole factor, which is why companies pay for ongoing training and certification. Statistics prove my point -

2010 Unempl Education attained
1.9% Doctoral degree
2.4 Professional degree
4.0 Master's degree
5.4 Bachelor's degree
7.0 Associate degree
9.2 Some college, no degree
10.3 High-school graduate
14.9 Less than a high school diploma

8.2 All Workers

CV Sudarshan
Title: Manager
Company: Independent
(Manager, Independent) |

Being technology savvy is a great area to differentiate oneself as a CFO. Companies are increasingly looking to CFOs to make sense of the numerous paradigm shifts in technology over the last few years.

And like Cindy mentioned - Network!

David Levy
Title: CFO
Company: NAMI

Regis - I don't think either Sam or Cindy was saying that experience was the sole factor and your statistics are not relevant to the original poster's question of how he/she can differentiate themselves from their competition.
The fact is, all the education in the world, all the degrees and certifications and letters after your name are not going to make you a more effective manager unless you know what do with all that knowledge - and that's where experience comes in. Knowing what to do with all the information you're bombarded with on a daily basis, sifting through what's relevant from what's not, being able to prioritize and then allocate resources to get the job done, that's what contributes to an effective manager. And, when you're effective, you ought to be able then to quantify your accomplishments (your impact) and, therefore, differentiate yourself from your competition.
I've been spending a lot of time thinking about this having been laid off myself a week ago.

Topic Expert
Cindy Kraft
Title: CFO Coach
Company: Executive Essentials
(CFO Coach, Executive Essentials) |

Head knowledge -or- knowledge in action.
Knowing what to do -or- doing what you know to do.
Thinking -or- executing.

I think that's how I differentiate between knowledge base and tangible impact.

Brad Luke
Title: SVP
Company: Software as a service
(SVP, Software as a service) |

These were all great postings. Trust and pain point solving are really great points to make sure your resume conveys. thank you!

Mark Matheny
Title: VP - FInancial Planning and Analysis
Company: Novolex (formerly Hilex Poly)
(VP - FInancial Planning and Analysis, Novolex (formerly Hilex Poly)) |

I believe it is all about proving you can add value to the business. The CFO needs to be a partner with all functions and participate in moving the company forward. He/she is in a perfect position to be a problem solver and understand how to identify bottlenecks to be exploited and removed across the entire organizaton.

Phyllis Proffer
Title: Owner, Investor Relations Counselor
Company: The Heights Company, LLC
(Owner, Investor Relations Counselor, The Heights Company, LLC) |

They have already made their decision. Make as many friends and contacts as possible at the combined company. If you stay, you will have followers. If you need to look for a job, you have supporters. Grace under pressure.

Title: Executive & Business Coach, Career Trans..
Company: Howard B. Schwedel, MBA / Schwedel Busin..
(Executive & Business Coach, Career Transition, Franchise Selection, Howard B. Schwedel, MBA / Schwedel Business Svc.) |

Put together a "My First 100 Days on The Job Plan". You can use this with the acquiring company, as well as, a potential employer.

I assume your concern about your current position comes from the fact that the acquiring company may not know you. Instead of speaking up about what you have done, use your experience to explain to them, here is what I would do after the acquisition. It's a great way to show them you are on board and engage at a strategic level. If it doesn't work out, it will be great practice for you to use in future interviews.

For interviews with new companies, keep it general but show you are organized and thorough. Remember this is your approach to on-boarding yourself. I like to call it your "100 Day Success Plan". I like to include an executive summary that showcases your past accomplishments and how you would apply your knowledge and skills starting on day one. Remember if you get the job you have approximately 100 days to be totally objective. After that you become part of the existing culture. Use that to your advantage.

Whatever happens, good luck.

Brian Dela Cruz
Title: Founder, CEO, CFO, Accountant, and Consu..
Company: Take Flight Business Solutions LLC
LinkedIn Profile
(Founder, CEO, CFO, Accountant, and Consultant, Take Flight Business Solutions LLC) |

"Chance favors the prepared mind." First off, I think it's important to never stop learning and acquiring knowledge and experience; I would question someone's ability to add value, if they stopped their education at just a Bachelor's Degree, after 10 years of experience.

I think sometimes, more importantly however, it's about how you would fit into the organization that is hiring. Maybe you have strong experience with Mergers and Acquisitions, and the company needs someone with that type of background in the near future. Perhaps, the organization is international, and needs a CPA to navigate the reporting requirements.

So, the answer is, it all depends; it's about finding the right match for you. The CFO of Apple while he may be a great CFO may not necessarily be a good fit for a small health insurance company needing a CFO. One, he may be too expensive for the company, and two, he may not have the best background to add value immediately in a health insurance environment.

In summary, never stop learning and acquiring knowledge and experience, and find yourself the proper fit. By finding the proper fit, you'll naturally be differentiating yourself from the competition.

Jack Judd
Title: Retired
Company: Retired
(Retired, Retired) |

This can get repetitive but work on your overall communication skills. Practice good, concise answers to questions you will get in every interview - especially around your successes. You have also been encourage by others to start networking now. Your next job most likely will come from someone you know or meet, not through an executive recruiter.

Good luck.

Katie Roth
Title: Owner
Company: Portico Staffing
(Owner, Portico Staffing) |

The first thing I would do is sit down and think about your current and past two jobs. Then make a list of your accomplishments and achievements while working at each organization. List the strategy, implementation and processes you used to bring about these results. Have 3-4 for each job. Even better if you can keep them all on one page. This will help prep you for the cover letter and interviews. If you need a starting point, use this question: what have you done in your career to make money, improve a process, or save the organization money?

And start looking now. Too many people wait till the end of their unemployment or severance package to begin their job search.

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