Landing Your First CFO Role: CFO Readiness Guide

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So, you’ve decided to take the plunge and become a CFO? Congratulations! The role of CFO is one of the most important in any company, and it’s sure to be a challenging but rewarding experience. Before you can step into the role, there are a few things you need to do to make sure you’re ready for it.

In this blog, we’ll discuss the challenges of landing your first CFO role and how to overcome them. We will provide you with a CFO readiness plan to help best prepare you for the role.

Landing your first role

Landing your first CFO role can be a daunting task and you need to be prepared for the many obstacles that you’ll face along the way. That’s why it’s important to assess your readiness for the role and make sure you’re as ready as you can be.

Your starting point is to work out what kind of company you want to land your first CFO role in. If this is in a large listed multinational company, then your timeline and challenges will be very different compared to an early-stage startup company. 

In fact, research suggests that you are far more likely to secure your first finance leader role in an early-stage company that lacks the budget and prestige to attract a well-established market-leading CFO.

Your route to CFO

There are many different routes towards securing your first CFO role, either through an internal promotion or external hire. You may land the role directly from another company’s finance function, directly from an accounting practice, investment bank or strategy consultancy. Alternatively, you may secure an internal promotion from Financial Controller to CFO.

Each of these career paths will significantly impact your range of skills and experience when entering your first CFO role.

Another big factor is your transition scenario. The reason why the company hired a new CFO can significantly affect the demands of your role.

For example, you may:

1.       Accept a newly created CFO role in a rapid growth company;

2.       Inherit a mess from an ousted under-performer; or

3.       Take over from a popular high performer who has reached retirement age.

Each of these scenarios has a big impact on the demands of your new role and your ability to deliver it effectively.

Each CFO role is unique

The role of a CFO is unique in every company and varies significantly depending on its size and stage of life cycle journey.

Each CFO role requires different skills and competencies depending on the industry, geography and culture. Somebody who has worked in a similar industry group may be more successful than someone who is new to the sector.

A CFO with strong technical skills may be a good fit for a company that is focused on innovation and growth. On the other hand, if you are looking for someone who can help you reduce costs and streamline operations, you may want to consider candidates with more operational experience.

Some companies may require a CFO with extensive experience in financial planning and analysis, while others may need someone with strong interpersonal skills who can manage relationships with stakeholders, or somebody to drive forward an ambitious fundraising and M&A strategy.

Ownership structures can also have a big impact on the CFO’s key areas of focus. For example, delivering the CFO role in a PE-backed business is likely to be very different to doing so in a public company.

It’s also important to make sure that the candidate has a strong cultural fit with the company, in particular with the CEO. The CFO needs to be able to work well with other members of the executive team and with employees at all levels of the organization.

In a similar manner, companies will look for a CFO who complements the skills of their existing leadership team and finance team members. For example, they may seek a CFO who covers other people’s blind spots and brings something different that is vital towards delivering their business plan.

Stepping up

It’s not easy landing and delivering your first CFO role. In fact, it can be quite challenging. You need to be prepared for the many obstacles you’ll face along the way. That’s why it’s important to assess your readiness for the role and get yourself as ready as you can be.

The first challenge you’ll likely encounter is lack of experience. Many companies are looking for CFOs with years of boardroom experience in the role, so if you’re new to the game, it may be tough to find a job.

But don’t let this discourage you! There are plenty of ways to gain experience without having held the title of CFO before. For example, you can request to take on extra assignments at work, attend leadership training courses, or gain board-level expertise by volunteering in a local charity.

Another challenge is making the transition from individual contributor to leader. As a CFO, you’ll need to be able to manage and motivate a team of people, and this can be difficult if you’re not used to doing it. You’ll also need to learn how to give feedback effectively, delegate tasks, and set priorities.

The final challenge you’ll face is adjusting to the new responsibilities of the role. As CFO, you’ll be responsible for governance, risk management, compliance, financial planning, budgeting, forecasting, reporting, strategy, change, stakeholder management, and much more. This can be a lot to take in, especially if you’re not used to dealing with these. But don’t worry – with enough preparation and practice, you’ll be able to handle all these responsibilities like a pro!

Personal challenges

Most first-time finance leaders suffer from a range of personal challenges during their first few years in the role, that impact your ability to deliver your full potential. 

Some examples include struggling with imposter syndrome, a lack of influence in the board room, and feeling overwhelmed with tasks. 

Most of these challenges can easily be anticipated in advance, allowing you to develop mitigating strategies to reduce their negative impact on your performance and wellbeing.

Aspiring CFOs should take time to understand these common personal challenges and build a support network to help you overcome them. You should familiarise yourself with their impact on your behavioural traits and ability to deliver your role effectively.

GrowCFO’s finance leader challenges have been designed to help you overcome the nine biggest personal challenges that impact your finance leader community so that you can develop into the best version of yourself.

CFO Readiness

Given that each CFO role is different, it can be very difficult to accurately perform a CFO Readiness Assessment. In fact, a one-size-fits-all CFO Readiness Index is unlikely to give you a reliable answer. 

Here are the different things that you should do to help land your first CFO role:

1.       Fill in the GrowCFO Competency Framework to benchmark your current level of skills and expertise against your most relevant peer group.

2.       Join our Future CFO Programme to work through each Module of your CFO readiness journey and to obtain a GrowCFO certificate of completion for your CV and LinkedIn profile.

3.       Engage a GrowCFO professional mentor with extensive board level CFO experience to map your characteristics, skills and experience into your dream CFO opportunity.

4.       Complete GrowCFO’s finance leader challenges to help overcome your biggest personal challenges so that you can develop into the best version of yourself.

5.       Develop your personal brand and build a powerful support network to provide constructive feedback, open up new opportunities, and influence key decision-makers.

Additionally, if your first CFO role is likely to require fundraising experience, then you should complete GrowCFO’s Fundraising Simulator to obtain direct experience of leading a real-life fundraise.

Summary

The role of CFO is one of the most important in any company and offers you a fantastic career opportunity. There are many challenges towards securing and stepping up into this role, but these can all be overcome with the right level of planning.

Aspiring finance leaders should perform a CFO Readiness Assessment well in advance of your target start date to identify your biggest personal challenges and develop a powerful action plan to get yourself ready for landing your dream role.

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