How to Get Your First CFO Position
How to Get Your First CFO Position
Becoming a CFO is a journey. It’s a leadership position that doesn’t always have a straight trajectory. As the role of CFO expands, more candidates from less traditional backgrounds are becoming interested in the position of CFO. If you’ve decided to aim for the role of CFO, you want to make sure you have what it takes.
Chief Finance Officer is one of the most important positions in any company – whether it’s a start-up or a 100-person company. While it can be a challenge, being a CFO can also be a rewarding experience as you’ll play a vital role in the development and growth of a company.
At FD Capital, we’re a boutique recruitment agency that specialises in connecting businesses with talented candidates for part-time, full-time, and interim CFO positions. We’re sharing everything you need to know about getting your first CFO position, whether you’re from a financial background or making a career change.
What does a Chief Financial Officer do?
Before you apply for your first CFO position, you need to understand the role and responsibilities that you’ll be undertaking. Overall, the CFO is a member of the business’ c-suite leadership team and oversees its financial planning and strategy. A CFO’s responsibilities can range from financial forecasting to overseeing payroll and risk management.
As a CFO, you’ll report to the company’s CEO and its board if one is in place. Although you’ll be reporting to these individuals, the position of CFO is one of the highest ranks within a company. You’ll be expected to take a leadership role within the organisation, including managing and motivating employees.
The diversity of the role of CFO means that it’s no longer a position that’s exclusively offered at PLCs or Fortune 500 companies. Start-ups and SMEs who are looking for fundraising opportunities are also recruiting for CFOs, often on a part-time or interim basis.
Some of the responsibilities you’ll have as a CFO include:
- Managing cash flow
- Overseeing financial planning
- Risk management
- Exploring fundraising opportunities
- Strategic direction
- Stakeholder communication
The experience and qualifications you need to be a CFO
You’ll need an impressive CV to land your first CFO position. The good news is that the expansion of the CFO role means that candidates from less traditional backgrounds are now able to apply for such positions.
Most CFOs will have an educational background in business, economics, management, or finance. Most will have a bachelor’s and masters in a finance-related field, such as accounting. They will typically have other professional qualifications to add to their CV, such as ACA qualifications.
It’s not just qualifications that you’ll need – experience is just as important. You want to have a proven track record of delivering results in your previous positions. Although many companies recruit internally for their CFO, many now look outside their company to bring a fresh approach to their organisation.
The role of the modern CFO is always evolving, meaning companies want candidates who have a diverse skill set and are highly adaptable. If you’re an interim CFO, you want to be able to hit the ground running.
As a CFO, you’ll be responsible for the financial workings of the organisation. It’s a serious responsibility and one that poses both a challenge and an opportunity to prove yourself. You’ll need to be prepared to carry the company’s financial future on your shoulders.
Getting your first CFO position
It can feel like starting a mountain hike when you’re hunting for your first CFO role. You want to be prepared for the challenges and hurdles that you’ll need to overcome. Before you get started, you want to ensure you’re ready to overcome these challenges and go through the process of securing your first CFO position.
When you’re starting your search for a CFO position, you want to decide what type of company you want to work with. You may decide to focus on a niche that matches your experience, whether it’s fintech or marketing. Your journey to getting your first CFO position will depend on whether you’re targeting start-ups or multinational organisations.
If you’re coming to the position of CFO from a more unique background, you may find it easier to land your first job with a start-up or company in the early stages of development. These companies are an excellent place to build experience and struggle to attract established CFOs due to their limited budget.
The journey to becoming a CFO
The route to becoming a CFO is not always linear or set in stone. While recruiting internally is one of the most popular options, there are dozens of other routes to landing your first CFO position. At FD Capital, we’re here to help you connect with companies and start-ups searching for talented candidates to become their CFO.
Your skills and experience will determine the path you take when searching for your first CFO position. No two people will have the same journey to becoming a CFO. You’ll always want to be aware of the situations where a CFO is hired.
A company may decide to hire a CFO as they’re undergoing a period of rapid growth, or they may be replacing an under-performing CFO. Alternatively, you may also be replacing a successful CFO who is retiring or moving to another company.
You always want to be aware of the situation that you’re walking into as it’ll determine what your early days in the role will be like.
No two CFO positions are the same
There’s no standard job description for the position of CFO. It’s a constantly evolving position with the role of ‘modern CFO’ changing with the world of work. A CFO’s role will differ depending on the company’s size and where they are in their life cycle. Different factors will determine a CFO’s position, from the company culture to the industry they operate in.
Your skills and experience will also feed into your position as a CFO. If you have a strong track record of success with VC fundraising, you may be put in charge of overseeing all aspects of that for the business. Your CEO may also decide to utilise your leadership skills to engage with stakeholders and potential investors.
You’ll want to find a company whose focus matches your skills and experience. If you have a background working with technology companies, you’ll be a natural fit at a start-up that focuses on innovation. If operations make up the bulk of your CFO, you would be ideal for a CFO position that involves more day-to-day management.
Most organisations will want a CFO who has a track record of financial planning and forecasting. You want to remember that you’re expected to be a leader. You’ll need the communication and interpersonal skills to build relationships at every level of the company and with other stakeholders. If a company has plans for M&A or is looking for fundraising opportunities, this will suit a CFO with extensive networking skills.
Another factor that will determine the role of a CFO is the ownership structure. If the company is backed by private equity, your scope of responsibility will be different than at a PLC. When you’re deciding what positions to look for, it’s a good idea to narrow your search down to company structures you’d be comfortable working in.
The company culture is one aspect that is often overlooked. You want to find a company that is the right fit for you. The person who sets the company culture is the CEO. When you’re going through the recruitment process, you want to make sure you click with the CEO and anyone else from the company who is involved in your recruitment.
It’s not just you who will be looking for the right fit. The company will always be searching for a candidate who will complement its current leadership team. They may be looking for someone to fill a gap in their team and to bring a fresh perspective to their organisation.
The key to landing your first CFO position is to be proactive. You need to step into the process knowing that it won’t be easy. You’ll face challenges and obstacles but being proactive and being aware of the process will help you navigate the recruitment process. You want to make sure you’re ready for the role of CFO before you start applying.
You may identify that you have a few shortcomings that you’ll need to solve before you can land your dream first position. Experience is often the Achilles heel for most candidates. You may decide to put your job search on hold until you get the right experience.
If you’re keen to get started, you can overcome your lack of experience by focusing on start-ups and companies in their early stages of development. You can start being proactive and looks for ways to get more experience in your current position. It may be taking on extra responsibility at work or undertaking training courses to build your skills and experience with a specific focus on financial management.
If you’re undergoing a career transition, you can look at gaining experience in unconventional ways. You might decide to volunteer at a local charity, work with a non-profit, or become a mentor.
One of the biggest challenges you’ll face is going from being an employee to having a leadership position – and the responsibilities that come with it. You’ll go from being an individual employee to being responsible for a team. If you’ve never had a leadership role before, this may be a difficult transition as you’ll have to motivate your team, delegate, create a strategy, and provide feedback.
Another thing you can be proactive about is preparing for the new responsibilities you’ll inherit as CFO. While every job description will differ, you can expect to oversee overseeing compliance, budgeting, strategy, stakeholder management, and governance. If you’re not used to juggling such a large portfolio, it can be overwhelming.
Get ahead of the game by doing your research to understand the challenges that each of these aspects will throw at you. If you’re proactive and prepare ahead of time, you’ll make an unforgettable first impression and hit the ground running.
Overcoming personal challenges
It’s easy to think that the only challenges you’ll face will be professional. Understanding the personal challenges will help you prepare for how to face them and make it easier for you to find the right CFO position.
When you’re first looking for a leadership-level role, you’ll likely feel at least a little imposter syndrome. You might become overwhelmed by your newfound responsibilities or feel like you lack the influence you need. Before you start looking for a CFO position, you want to prepare yourself for these personal challenges.
You might decide to go on a leadership course or to find a mentor to work with to help you prepare. Having a strong support system is also key to helping you overcome these challenges. You can turn to your network to get advice and support through your recruitment journey and to help you secure your first CFO role.
At FD Capital, we’re here to help you find a start-up or company that is the right fit for you. We’ll add you to our talent pool and help you determine what you can be doing to get yourself ready for your first CFO role.
Preparing for becoming a CFO
Once you start your job search, you want to keep growing your skillset and experience. Even after you land your first CFO job, you want to keep evolving your CV. You can never underestimate your personal brand and the power of networking. You want to build a network that will open opportunities for you and give you constructive feedback to help you grow your career.
The CFO is one of the most important people in an organisation. Their purpose is to keep the business growing on a steady path and to be part of building its future growth. While it’s a challenging role, it’s also one of the most rewarding. The key to getting your first CFO position is to understand these challenges, be proactive, and find a way to overcome them.
Are you an inspiring CFO? Reach out to us today to find out how you can join our network and start your journey to getting your first CFO position.