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If I am looking for a CFO job, should I be networking with other CFOs or should I aim at CEOs, board members, etc?

CFO Jobs

I have been an FEI and FENG member and CFO for over a decade. I have been in transition twice during that period and got my jobs from VCs, CEOs and Board Member connections, not through my local finance "group". When going to events held by these groups I always find more out of work CFOs than I find employed CFOs. Those CFOs who are employed don't have CFO jobs to offer me because, well, they are CFOs - and CFOs don't hire CFOs. And unless they know me personally, they would have to have rocks in their head to recommend me into a process that might have uncertain outcomes for me as a candidate, and they as a referrer. CEOs, boards and investors hire CFOs (and recruiters help them find CFOs). And as for the unemployed CFOs, I don't see them being very anxious to create more competition by putting their CFO opportunities on my plate. Why would they want to make their job lead even more crowded? So instead of going to the same meetings as my other unemployed peers, shouldn't I be networking with the people who directly search for and hire CFOs? And where do I find them? In the past I have used a very close personal network of CEOs and VCs I have worked with directly, but is there any analogue to the FEI/FENG groups but for the folks who directly create and control the CFO jobs?

Answers

Topic Expert
Mark Richards
Title: VP of Finance & Operations
Company: RBA Consulting
(VP of Finance & Operations, RBA Consulting) |

Original:
If I am looking for a CFO job, should I be networking with other CFOs or should I aim at CEOs, board members, etc? (You should also look at the details)

Response:
Networking with other CFOs - here's what has worked with my CFO search.

1) Employed CFOs - those that hold the role you want: These are great people to connect with to both get their insight into related firms. More importantly, they will be the first called for similar roles - as they are in the chair. If they are not interested, then they can forward to you.

One strategy for tightly-knit industries, is to reach out to out-of-state CFOs, they may know lots of people within the industry in your state.

2) Employed CFOs - in companies you are not interested in: If you start with FENG members (as almost all joined while in transition), you can tap their network. While they may be outside your industry/expertise, their network may cover the type of connections you seek.

3) CFOs in Transition - I always joke at our local FENG meetings that we are 'competitively cooperative'. You are right that if someone has found a role via their networking, then it is unlikely they will share it. But for something outside their interest, those can be shared - for example, I'm a service company CFO - so I pass all the roles requiring manufacturing experience to others. I get others in return - but I will say I had to share first, to prime the pump.

The other reason I meet with these folks: All of us will land. If you help them in transition, then you may get their remaining leads after they land.

If you are seeing the same people again and again at FENG and FEI - then I'd take a break from the meetings and use the directory to reach members who have not been at meetings.

NETWORKING WITH EXECUTIVE MANAGEMENT, BOARD OF DIRECTORS, ETC.
The best way to get connected to these folks is to use a targeted company list (see link below) when you network. You know who you want to meet, a targeted company list helps your network connect you to them. The targeted company list is something you can share widely - many of my CEO connections have come from folks in BD roles, non-profit fundraising, service professionals.

NETWORKING WITH CONNECTORS (SERVICE PROVIDERS, NON-PROFIT BOARDS, ETC.)
Groups like Association for Corporate Growth (ACG), etc. are good ways to build your local brand and make people aware you are in transition or seeking a role.

When you go, what you are seeking is the service firm that works with the industry or companies of interest - then try to find a time to do a 1-on-1 meeting with them later.

NETWORKING WITH FELLOW CXOS
I belong to a small networking groups of CIOs, CMO, CEO, COO, and CFOs - it is simply a great group because we don't compete - yet we all have CXO networks.

One of the best venues to meet fellow CXOs is at ExecuNet meetings (www.execunet.com) or look at the events on LinkedIn related to C-level groups in your area.

I also have created my own mini-networks: I'll invite 3 other CXOs to coffee for an hour - you'll be amazed at the connections you can get in an hour.

GETTING REFERRALS INTO ACTIVE SEARCHES
Regarding your comment on if someone knows you, that's going to be most people with whom you network. My best method to overcome this is to come to the meeting with ideas on how I can help them in their business, search, etc. - besides showing them you came to 'network', it's also shows commitment that many folks in transition do not. While they cannot recommend your work, they may give you the introduction to sell yourself.

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

That's a great list, Mark.

One other often overlooked strategy is having a mentor. Regardless of where you are in your career, a mentor(s) can serve two valuable roles. First, is obviously giving CFOs and other Finance Executives the benefit of their wisdom as well as acting as a sounding board / outside perspective for challenges you might be facing. Second, is an introduction to their circle of influence. When a mentor is invested in you, he's invested in your success and willing to introduce you to the movers and shakers who can help you succeed.

Simon Westbrook
Title: CFO
Company: Aargo Inc.
( CFO, Aargo Inc.) |

Mark, I may be coming into this discussion a little late, but your comments came up in a recent search. I would like to find out what success you, or other Profoormative members have had in trying to make contact with targetted CFOs using common links they come up with on Linked In. Obviously, reaching out indirectly through common links can be seen as adding weak links to the chain, and essentially any hits will likely still be seen as "cold call" by the victim CFO. I am wondering whether you can share any tips for increasing the response rate to such Linkedin requests and not just for employment networking but also for business development networking.

Topic Expert
Mark Richards
Title: VP of Finance & Operations
Company: RBA Consulting
(VP of Finance & Operations, RBA Consulting) |

Simon,

I found using Linked is much like off-line networking, when you don't have an immediate connection for a 'warm' introduction, it all comes down to how you make a request that is forwarded via LinkedIn.

A quick aside, if you are in the same group on LinkedIn as the target CFO, you can send them a message (if they allow other group members to contact them). But again, the request is important.

Having worked in start-ups for the past five years, I've done loads of networking through LinkedIn to learn, find contacts, etc. from people outside my immediate network so I've had lots of practice (read: trial and error) in requesting networking help.

Creating the request:
1) The more specific the request, the more likely you'll get a response. People are very busy, so tightly defining what you want makes it easier for them to respond because they will understand the commitment you seek.

Your first sentence should define who you are and why you are reaching out to the person.

2) Start with learning - Regardless of purpose, my initial request is always to learn - I did this by defining the issue/problem that I was attempting to solve.

3)Why are you asking them - Identify what about them is of interest to you (industry, role, etc.)

4) Offer mutual networking - You need to show that you are just as willing to offer something in return.

5) What's the next step, is is a call, e-mail, - and ask them how to schedule on their terms.

6) Avoid putting them into the position to say 'no'. If your request is clear is not to ask for a job or decision, then it makes it easier for the person to accept.

Lastly, you need to accomplish this is just a few sentences. Because the message will likely be read on a smartphone - so the shorter the better.

For an example of a simple e-mail template, see Resources for "E-mail template - Setting up a Networking Meeting"

If your objective is business development, then the same rules apply - but at the beginning make it clear that this is an invitation to learn if you can do business together.

Hope this helps.

Mark

Simon Westbrook
Title: CFO
Company: Aargo Inc.
( CFO, Aargo Inc.) |

I take your point, but like everything else in life Linked-in CFOs etc come in all shapes and sizes, and respond to even the most expertly crafted requests in different ways depending on their mood, their personality, and other demands on their time. There is an awful lot of luck in getting a response: asking the right person at the right time in the right circumstances, so sometimes it is a questions of numbers. The more introduction requests you make, the more chances of a hit!
My question for you is this! Does a non response indicate a closed door? Should one try again after a reasonable period of waiting in time in the hope of hitting the right person at the right time, or will repeated attempts create a perception of nuisance, and therfore a more deeply ingrained disinclination to respond. If so what is a reasonable waiting time, and how many attempts would you consider making before giving up! Persistanmce can last for a very long time!

Topic Expert
Mark Richards
Title: VP of Finance & Operations
Company: RBA Consulting
(VP of Finance & Operations, RBA Consulting) |

While a well-crafted message improves your chances of response, it's still a cold-call, that's why working your network is critical.

My rule of thumb is three tries and if no response - move on. Keep the same message and don't alter it. I usually spaced out my messages about 10 days apart.

During the interim period, I still work my LinkedIn to find connections to the targeted CFO. If I get a connection, then I change my message to include the referral.

Alexander Haislip
Title: Author
Company: Independent
(Author, Independent) |

"On s’engage et puis ... on voit"

Commit yourself to a serious battle and then see what happens. In this case, the commitment is key. I've found it useful to construct a process for outreach, with a daily time set aside and self-imposed quotas to meet. Only then can you advance each day, on multiple fronts, until you achieve the victory of a callback.

Of course Napoleon would have been wiser had he not attempted a land war in Russia. Mark's practical suggestion of "three tries" before quitting seems like a reasonable way to avoid becoming mired in an impossible task.

I've sometimes found that changing tactics is valuable too. Intersperse emails with phone calls. You can frequently get to an executive's voicemail or to his or her personal assistant. It's another touch point that may make your request harder to ignore.

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