Moving Up as a CFO

Whether you’re preparing for a promotion from within once the current CFO retires or are moving on to a new organization with room at the top, you can smooth the road to the CFO’s office with some strategic planning. Young finance professionals who want an opportunity to perform at the highest levels should consider their long-range plans well in advance. For those who are already established in finance careers and have progressed farther toward the corner office, these tips can speed you along the path.

Name Brands Matter

Finance professionals whose bona fides come from one of the Big Four instantly have more cachet than their counterparts from more modest firms. The good news is that this halo effect works even if your tenure there was relatively short. Just working within any of the Big Four’s systems teaches you volumes about business and finance. Starting your career with one of these prestigious firms also puts you in contact with clients who are themselves owners of other firms, giving you access to new opportunities. The finance professional who serves as an account manager today may be next year’s CFO when clients like what they see from you.

Variety Counts Too

While a Big Four pedigree is valuable, it’s far from the only way to fast-track your move to CFO. Resumes that feature varied experience are attractive to potential employers too. Because CFOs have to solve complex inter-disciplinary problems and take a wider view, someone with job experience at corporate headquarters and in financial analysis at branch offices, for example, has a distinct advantage over a candidate who has remained in one position. Working in other departments can also be a plus. Having a CFO who has worked in sales or marketing has a deeper understanding of how revenue is produced and earned. Having experience as a C-level executive in another field is also valuable, but make sure you return to the finance fold; if you’re aiming for a CFO position, finance must be central.

Complete Credentials

In few other positions are credentials as important as they are for CFOs. Having an MBA is important, but a CPA is even better. Combining the two makes you an especially valuable prospect – one who will have companies competing for your attention. For finance professionals who have graduated and wonder if they need the full complement of credentials, the answer is yes. It’s worth going back to school and earning your certification as a CPA if you aren’t yet there. It’s proof both of your dedication and your ability, and businesses who place their trust in you as a CFO want that verification of your skill.

Develop a Big-Picture Outlook

What sets C-level executives apart is their vision. Not content to look ahead only at their own spheres of influence, they see things from a company-wide perspective and beyond. Number-crunching is not enough to earn a position as a CFO, although it may make you a valued assistant. To move up, you need to sharpen your distance vision. Look downstream and anticipate where you and your organization want to be in a year or two. Work with other departments to get a more holistic vision of the CFO’s role, and you’ll be far ahead of the game when it’s time to promote.

Sharpen Soft Skills

A CFO has to pay attention to the numbers, but if accounting were all the job entailed, anyone with a head for figures could be slotted in to do the job. It’s plain when a company has a number-crunching CFO who lacks other key business skills, so bring your prospective employer the whole package by working on your so-called soft skills – communication, leadership, social skills, and networking. CFO is not an ivory-tower position; you may be talking to shareholders, coordinating teams across departments, addressing the public, and otherwise being the face of your company’s financial facets. If you’re socially adept and can handle anything from a business luncheon to a stockholder’s meeting, you’re an asset in and out of the office.

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