Financial officers typically share two traits casinos hate: They’re good with statistics, and they’re risk-averse. When you do decide to take a chance, it’s with a good idea of the odds you face and the potential gains you can expect. Think back to your statistics classes, use your analytical skills wisely and put the odds in your favor as you plan out your financial career. Taking chances can be your smartest decision when you’re well informed.
Mining the Raw Data
Before you can estimate your chances of success at any venture, you need to understand the odds. Developing a winning strategy at career advancement starts with knowing which careers are growth-oriented, which companies hire from outside and where you might need to shore up your expertise to win a position. Some information is readily available – someone who lacks an MBA is clearly less likely to land a position as a CFO with a Fortune 500 company, for instance – but other data takes a little digging to unearth.
Large companies and businesses with multiple branches tend to promote from within because they have a wider available talent pool than their smaller counterparts, suggests research from the Korn Ferry Institute. If you have a long-range goal of rising through the ranks at a large firm, you might opt to take an entry-level position adjacent to your field of expertise and place yourself in line from within the company. If you’re ready to take a leadership role now, smaller organizations might offer better odds.
Companies also like to bring in new finance personnel after a change in ownership. After companies change hands, about a third of former CFOs are no longer with the organization. The company has to find new blood from somewhere, and you stand a good chance of catching on with a start-up or recent acquisition than you would in an established or family-run company that’s unlikely to change hands.
Big-picture data gives you a good general idea of your odds of success at target companies, but the smaller details may be even more fertile ground to work when looking for your best job prospects. Drill more deeply into trade publications and industry journals to discover which firms tend to hire people with your skill set, educational background or other characteristics. Companies vary in dozens of ways that could affect your job search. If you have a formidable educational background, for example, you could be a good fit for firms that place more emphasis on degrees and credentials.
Using Information Intelligently
Once you’ve done your research, put it to work when you contact prospective employers. Let the information you’ve gleaned about each company influence your approach. Put your experience front and center when seeking a position with a company that looks for industry knowledge in its personnel. Some companies look for credentials over current experience so they can groom their people for higher-level positions; if that sounds like a good fit for you, showcase your degrees and certifications.
Industries as well as companies follow certain hiring trends. Financial and industrial sectors are considerably more likely to hire CFOs with industry-specific backgrounds because these positions involve more specialized knowledge. They’re more willing to take a chance on someone who isn’t already a sitting CFO because they prioritize specific job knowledge over more general experience. Conversely, services-oriented industries look for more traditional CFO experience. They hire sitting CFOs 70 percent of the time.
Your skill with number-crunching and careful analysis are good for more than just doing your job as a CFO. They’re also key traits for advancing your career and moving to greater opportunities.