Branding Speaks to Culture Fit

My clients know that I believe authentic branding speaks directly to culture fit. And prospects who talk with me will hear me say …

When you’ve made it to the top 3 candidate list, your ability to do the job is a given. That means, there are only two remaining questions … are you a fit with their culture and do they like you. When you are well-branded, the culture fit question has also already been answered. Likability is the only remaining issue.

Recently, CFO World ran an article entitled “Why CEOs Prefer Old-Fashioned Networking When Hiring,” and Robert Zecca, former president and CEO of Content Data Solutions provides a great perspective …

“I have three criteria which I use in hiring: they must be able to perform the job, their goals must align with the company’s goals, and they must fit into our culture,” he says. “By utilizing our networks, we find that the latter two requirements align and my job becomes a little easier.”

So I have two questions …

Are you well-branded? While it is more work at the front-end of the career management process, it makes finding (and attracting) the right opportunities that are a great fit with your skill set, values, passions, and interests much easier.

Are you networked and visible? If you aren’t, you might be missing out on great opportunities. If you are well-networked and visible but you aren’t attracting the right opportunities, see the first question.

Make a Lasting Impression by Being First … or Last!

In many things, including interviewing, there is a principle called the “first and last bias.” Have you heard of it?

As humans, we tend to weigh more heavily the information given at the beginning and the end of presentations. That’s great counsel if you do presentations. But it is also important in interviewing.

First, scheduling the interview.

If at all possible, you want to be interviewed first or last in order to take advantage of the first and last bias principle. If you’re first, you have the opportunity to set the standard or bar for everyone following you. If you’re last, you have the chance to wipe out the memory of the candidates who preceded you.

Of course, what you do post-interview is equally important.

Second, navigating the interview.

The immediate impression you make in the first 5 seconds combined with your first answer will either solidify you as a good choice or immediately remove you from consideration.

Assuming you make that first great impression and connection, how you end your interview will again, either solidify your candidacy or get your name scratched off the list.

It’s important to start well and end well to win the advantage. First and last can make a huge difference in interviewing success.


Lessons from Leaders

One of the most interesting panels at the recent CFO Core Concerns conference was the one offering lessons from some of the country’s most fascinating, and perhaps less known, leaders.

Take Jackie Berry, for instance. She is the CFO / COO of Zorch, a rapidly-growing, tech-enabled, branded merchandise agency. How rapidly growing? How does 20,000% over the last four years sound? And yes, 20,000 – it’s not a typo.

Her energy and enthusiasm were contagious throughout the room. Jackie says the focus on brand protection is a top priority and a key focus, and her company executes a continuous interviewing process. While they are not always hiring, they are very transparent about where Zorch is in the hiring process. The “always interviewing” strategy allows them to bring on top talent within 2-3 weeks when necessary, and a vibrant training & development program follows each new hire.

Another unknown – at least to me – was Ted Vincent, Vice Chair and CFO of FordDirect. He, too, advocates continuous interviewing as “the” way to ensure you have the right people in your network when it comes time to hire. He indicated the “entire executive team needs to be a part of the recruiting process.” I totally agree!

Harold Earley is the EVP and CFO of Foamex Innovations. Another fast-growing and, as the name implies, innovative company. They make foam, which is everywhere, and apparently, Foamex is the industry leader.  Sadly, according to Earley, great finance talent is absent from the Philadelphia area.

The lack of top finance talent statement reminded me of the Duke University / study results that indicated 21% of companies are in hiring mode; 16% would like to hire but don’t have the resources to do so; and 9.3% can’t find qualified employees. That 9.3% stat is telling. The question is, how do we bridge the gap?

Branding & Culture Fit

Those seem to be two very hot topics these days! And they are topics that are relevant to Chief Financial Officers and other Finance Leaders.

A few days ago, after reading Fortune’s article, “Is it better to hire for cultural fit over experience,” I posted this in my Linked In CFO Careers group “A strong, compelling, and visible brand takes the question of culture fit completely off the table!” My comment was in response, in part, to these comments from the Fortune article …

“the most qualified candidates often do damage to a firm when they don’t jibe with the firm’s culture.”

“Cultural fit is incredibly important on a candidate’s abilities to use his skills,” says Nancy Rothbard, an associate professor of management at The Wharton School. “You have a positive effect through skills, but culture completely cancels that out.”

Cultural fit can cover a variety of characteristics, but ultimately, Rothbard and others say, the question hiring managers should be looking to answer is, does this candidate’s values align with those of the company ….”

Culture fit is THE most difficult piece of the hiring process. And while most articles speak to a company getting it right, I think it is equally important for candidates to get it right. I doubt any senior executive really wants to make a wrong decision and end up in job search mode almost immediately.

George Bradt quoted Kevin Kelly, CEO of Heidrick & Struggles, in his post about interview questions at …

“40 percent of senior executives leave organizations or are fired or pushed out within 18 months. It’s not because they’re dumb; it’s because a lot of times culturally they may not fit in with the organization or it’s not clearly articulated to them as they joined.” [emphasis mine]

Forty percentfired or pushed out within 18 months! I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather be calling the shots than the one being fired at by someone else.

Enter branding, which speaks directly to culture fit. In fact, a strong brand attracts the right kind of opportunities while sending those that are a poor fit running in the opposite direction.

I believe that by the time you make it to the “Top 3”, there are really only two remaining questions on the table. Are you a fit for the company’s culture and do they like you. When you are well-branded – and visible – the culture fit question has already been answered … for both the candidate and the company, giving you a huge advantage over the other two candidates.

What Recruiters Want

I’m just back from an amazing industry conference of Career Thought Leaders. There were some great presenters and some equally great conversations with non-presenters … and I learned from both!

For me, one of the most interesting presentations was by recruiter Wayne Mitchell. He had some great information on “recruiter thinking” that will help me help my CFOs as well as finance executives who are aiming for that CFO seat. Here are just a few of his great insights (his comments are in bold, my commentary follows) …

— Water cooler talk is a great way to find out the culture of the company.

Obviously, if you aren’t in the company you’re not able to participate in or observe “water cooler talk.” But there are ways to get in that dialogue …. Here’s a hint … Linked In is no longer optional.

— The foundation of any company is its values, and aligning those with the candidate’s values & vision is key in recruiting.

Which is why candidate branding is so effective. Branding takes the question of “culture fit” off the table before you walk in for the interview.

— A candidate’s values mean nothing unless they are values-in-action.

A candidate’s values are demonstrated through his purpose, passion, and priorities.

— Recruiters look for career progression and impact in resumes.

At the CFO level, technical skills are assumed. It’s about the ROI of the candidate … his ability to solve a company’s problems and leave it, measurably, better than he found it.

20 is the New 2

During a coaching call this morning, my CFO client was bemoaning the fact that it is becoming increasingly difficult for him to deliver his message. He said he targets 2 minutes as the time to deliver his responses to interview questions, but finds himself getting cut off after completing one sentence.

20 has become the new 2. 

20 words vs. 2 minutes. Welcome to the new world of messaging courtesy of Twitter, texting, Blackberry, and iPhone

I can hear you now. I can also see your eyes rolling. It was evident in my client’s response, too. How can you possibly deliver your message in 20 words? 

Realistically, you can’t afford not to. If your responses are getting cut off, your message isn’t resonating. Conversely, if you deliver a crystal-clear 20-word hook that invites a follow-up question … SCORE!

20 is the new 2. You have to know the new rules if you expect to compete and win!

Why did you leave your last job?

A finance executive recently contacted me for some coaching on how to answer the inevitable interview question regarding why he left his last job. He struggled to put those unpleasant details and experience into an answer that was both positive and truthful.


The tendency is usually toward bitterness when you’ve been let go … for any reason. After all, you gave them 60+ hours a week, the best years of your life, kept them solvent … whatever. You did your best and what thanks did you get? It comes through in your words, tone, and even body language. 

The result is usually going negative in your answer. So keep your answer short, don’t blame anyone, and then deflect with a question to move the conversation to more neutral territory.


Never. Ever. Ever. lie! First of all, you have to remember the lie you told. You don’t need to respond in gory detail, but your response must be honest.  Second, the Internet has made it very, very easy to uncover the truth. You should regularly Google your name to see what a potential company might find if they searched your name … and they most likely will. That way, you can go on the offensive and be prepared to answer those hard questions. 

Be sure to prep your references, particularly if they work(ed) for the same company, in the event the “why you let” question is posed to them. 


If iPhones, Blackberries, and Twitter have taught us anything, it is that brevity is king. The surest way to sabotage your interview is to let a pregnant pause loosen your tongue. Prepare. Practice. Answer. And then, unless you are deflecting with a question, be quiet.

As a brilliant finance executive or CFO, working yourself out of a job is much different than losing a job. There is much power in the former, very little in the latter.

Failing to Plan … Planning to Fail?

A finance executive called me last week because he knew that his resume was not selling value, he struggled when answering questions about his atypical career track, and he had an important interview coming up in the next couple of weeks. He understood that without a compelling value proposition that mitigated his unusual career progression and which leveraged his market differentiation, he would always be on the defensive while being interviewed.  Smart guy. 

Except, that when his pending interview was postponed indefinitely and the immediacy of the situation gone, he put his strategic planning on hold. Without the urgency driving his steps, he would have had the luxury of time to get his positioning right … while gaining confidence and re-energizing his search. 

The reality in proactively managing one’s career is like anything else … failing to plan could very well be planning to fail. The choice to not be proactive is a decision, by default, to be reactive. 

Resume Authenticity

Cathy Graham authored an informative post entitled “Living Up to Your Resume. While it offers a number of good insights, here’s the one I want to key in on today … because it is so critically important.

Resume writing services are out there and many are very good. However, you can end up with a product that really bears little relationship to who you are. Experienced recruiters and employers pick up on this quite quickly. Robert Half International conducted a survey of 100 Canadian senior executives, asking them “How common is it for a job applicant who has a promising resume to not live up to your expectations when you interview him or her?” Sixty-five percent said it was very common. One of the biggest causes of this disconnect stems from inflating your achievements. When you get in an interview situation, with its attendant stress, you are unable to relate your experience to match the way it is conveyed on your resume. 

One of the things I evangelize to my clients is the importance of consistency between who they look like on paper and who they appear to be in person. It is also why my clients work very hard through the marketing document development process. Until they are crystal clear about their marketable value proposition (MVP), the pain they’ve taken away, challenges overcome, problems solved, and situations improved … and they can articulate those points … they simply canNOT compete as A-players.

The Rules Have Changed

So the question becomes, are you playing by the new rules or the old rules? As “The New Trouble on the Line” points out, the game has changed and the new rules are catching candidates by surprise. It’s a good read. More than that, it’s an important read.

Here are a few more areas where I believe my finance execs get tripped up … and it primarily comes from a reticence (for whatever reason) to embrace new technology.

–Email address

This seems like such a minor point, but it’s not. Your email address will often be the beginning of that “first impression” … especially when it is an AOL (amateurs online) address; some weird, nonsensical combination of words; your wife’s email address; or worse, something playful or even suggestive.

Linked In

I’m delighted to see more and more senior finance executives and CFOs getting on Linked In. This is a “must be” place for proactively managing your career. Where I see folks getting tripped up is in creating their bios with “yesterday’s boring corporate speak” or not creating it at all. This is your one shot at attracting recruiters who have the positions you want. Your profile must be compelling and sell value, your experience section must be complete and sell value, and joining groups and securing recommendations are critical. Linked In is a “networking” site … that requires action.


I was participating in some discussions in my various Linked In groups the other day, and there was a Twitter post with the invitation to list your Twitter url so you could follow others and be followed. My first response was “k-e-w-l, look at all those finance folks who are tweeting.” As I clicked the link my response changed to … “oh no, they don’t get it.” 

Twitter is a micro-blogging platform requiring you to talk with people … regularly and frequently. It is not a “build it and they will come” holding place on the Web. What I saw were accounts that were established with no identifiable name or bio, no tweets, and few followers. Not the message I’m sure these folks want to be sending.

–Voice Mail Message

What does your voice mail message say about you as an executive? Your kids are cute … that’s a given … and the voice mail recording they made is just adorable. And, unprofessional. If your home phone has anything other than a professional message, don’t use it on your resume. Use your personal cell phone and make sure the voice mail message is professional and includes either your name or your phone number (or both) so the caller knows they got the right person.

–And finally, Telephone Interviews

If you are not in a place where it makes sense for you to answer the phone, don’t. It would be far better for you to let them leave a message and call back when you are at your desk and focused than in the car with the kids or running errands. If you do answer and you are busy or otherwise distracted, politely ask if you can reschedule to a mutually convenient time. 

It is time (past time actually) for senior finance executives to proactively embrace Web 2.0 technology. Just as the rules have changed regarding telephone interviews, so have the rules changed in the competitive job search arena. Dinosaurs are out. A-players are in. On first pass, perhaps before you even know it happened, your status as either a dinosaur or an A-player is evident from your web savvy, or lack thereof.