Hiring insights from, and for, CFOs

As the economy improves, finance executives may need to sharpen their skills at interviewing job candidates

By , IDG News Service |  

With the economy continuing to pick up steam, industry surveys and analysts are predicting an attendant uptick in hiring for financial positions, including CFOs. While CFOs themselves could be changing jobs, they also are increasingly more likely to be doing some hiring.

Veteran CFOs who have participated in an interview series with IDG say that while they may have different approaches to that process, they are all looking for the same things. Wanted: a highly motivated self-starter not afraid to make an occasional mistake, with a strong commitment to collaboration and being a team player, a willingness to take responsibility for failures and successes, and the ability to keep focused on goals while maintaining passion about their work and the company.

The only way to figure out if a candidate possesses those traits in the limited time of a job interview is to sit back and listen, say CFOs, recruiters and management experts. That's especially important these days because many, if not most, job candidates have had a lot of experience doing interviews, says Ira Wolfe, president of Success Performance Solutions, a pre-employment and leadership testing company he founded in 1996.

"A good rule of thumb is that a good interview is 70 percent listening and observing," says Wolfe, who also is one of the experts at the Focus.com business research site.

Vibrant Media CFO Jeff Babka ensures that he will mostly listen and observe by opening up the floor to job candidates. "I first make sure that they understand the job, the company, our culture and my style. Then, I say, 'Look, tell me what you think I should know about you that would make me want to hire you. Start wherever you want in your life, end up wherever you want. Business and personal. What motivates you, what you don't like, what are your passions. Go anywhere with this you want -- the floor is yours for the next 45 minutes -- sell me!' I will likely interrupt them along the way and ask questions, but I may just listen."

If someone has a hard time organizing their thoughts or displays signs of discomfort with talking about themselves for that long, Babka's internal warning light goes off and he will begin to have the impression that the candidate won't be a good fit.

While Babka says he has been told that the specifics of his "sell me" technique are unique, his objectives are shared by other CFOs, who also watch for the same sorts of warning signs.

"The standard check-the-box interview answer says that somebody doesn't know what they're talking about," says Opera Solutions CFO Rob Bothe. "I look to have a conversation and it doesn't have to be this standard interview format."

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