The Job Search Breakdown

Remember the good old days when someone needed a job, they would apply for a position that was a good fit for their skills and get hired in a relatively short period of time? Me either. And I sincerely believe those days are gone forever.

The Broken Process
The Broken Process

There are several things in play in today’s job search that I think support my belief.

It is MUCH more challenging to find a job if you don’t have a job.

“Fair” is not a word that has any weight in the job search process, at least from a candidate perspective, when that candidate is unemployed. Passive candidates still get the nod, have the upper hand, and are the most-preferred candidates among companies who are hiring.

Add to that the fact that there are only so many CFO positions, and, if you lose or job or quit your job before you have another position, you might find yourself in a long and challenging job search.

Relationships, and networking, matter … greatly.

The only way to begin to mitigate the stigma of being unemployed (not in my mind, but in the mind of those who do the hiring) is by having a strong, solid, and influential network in place before you need to tap those people.

That same network is critically important to the passive job seeker as well since most qualified leads hit “trusted advisors” long before they go to recruiters.

Competition is fierce and proof is in performance, not responsibilities.

A candidate’s default messaging is always “what” they did – responsibilities they’ve held. The messaging from the top-notch, hunted, and most-coveted candidates is around problem-solving and impacts. Companies hire because they have problems they want solved. They hire candidates who demonstrate they can do just that. That demonstration shows up clearly in the candidate’s messaging.

Even with a value-driven message, the candidate still is not in control of the hiring time frame … a process that can still take an agonizing long time, even when everything is going well.

CFO Volatility – 2014

The latest Crist | Kolder Associates volatility report was recently released. Those releases are always fun reading in my office as I compare what they say with what I’ve been seeing. This report is no exception!

Here are a few highlights, along with my thoughts.

CFOs and COOs

For quite some time we saw upheaval in the C-suite as Chief Operations Officers were being replaced by operational Chief Financial Officers. While, according to Crist Kolder, that situation seems to have stabilized, COO turnover is expected to rise while CFO turnover is expected to drop. Maybe that has a good deal to do with long-term incentive compensation plans.

That said, despite the seeming trend, I agree with Mr. Kolder …

Tom Kolder, president of the recruiter, says he wouldn’t be surprised if there were a solid or even “dramatic” uptick in CFO turnover over the next few months.

… which is based solely on the number of prospect inquiries I’ve been getting over the last few weeks. According to the CK report, we’ll see the highest CFO turnover within the healthcare and industrial sectors.

Investment banking vs. CPAs

Crist | Kolder reports that while 30% of Fortune & S&P 500 company CFOs hold CPAs, for the first time ever 10% have investment banking backgrounds.

Will we see the CPA requirement begin to lose its luster? I know lots of non-CPAs who hope so.

External candidate hires

According to Crist | Kolder, an astounding 55% of external hires were sitting CFOs.

In my opinion, that’s good news on both fronts. Sitting CFOs are still marketable (with the right value message to the right target audience) and there’s a 45% block of opportunity for the rising stars.

Women in the CFO Seat

And one last tidbit.

The number of female CFOs is at an all-time high, having doubled in the last 10 years. Competition for the coveted Finance Chief role is coming from yet another direction.

See, I told you there was exciting reading in the Crist | Kolder volatility report!

Do You Just Talk, or Walk Your Talk?

A week or so ago I saw this article in Wall Street & Technology and thought how very relevant it was to a recent conversation with a CFO job search candidate.

There are two kinds of candidates. Both might be eminently qualified for a position, but their messaging tells a different story.

First, we have the Talker …

Talker Candidates focus on what they did – responsibilities and duties. Their resume is replete with things they did and responsibilities they held in the course of their career climb. They haven’t found the value associated with the what they’ve done, and as a result, messaging is always around what they have in common with their competition … scope of responsibilities, titles through their career climb, degrees, and credentials.

Walk Your Talk
Walk Your Talk

And then there is the Walker …

Walker Candidates focus on the value they’ve delivered. What they’ve done and how they’ve delivered impact to their respective companies. Their message is centered around solving problems; resolving challenges and issues; eliminating situations; minimizing risk, implementing cost-saving controls, processes, and systems; and driving profitability … all in a measurable, tangible way.

Walker Candidates also understand that it isn’t the “end result” in isolation that is the core of their value. The end result must be delivered in context. Context is around being a problem-solver. A company hires because it has problems. The Walker Candidate effectively positions himself as the Chief Financial Officer who can solve those problems … and the proof is in his walk.

When you choose to become a Walker Candidate vs. a Talker Candidate, you will begin to see the job requisitions mentioned in the referenced article should stop being beneath you and start being the right fit for you.

The Job Search Con Game

I’ve written about the posted position con game on several occasions, most recently upon my return from the Career Thought Leaders conference.

It's A Trap!
It’s A Trap!

Yesterday I saw an article on Linkedin by one of my favorite people in the careers industry, Lou Adler. His thoughts on “Why Responding to a Job Posting is a Waste of Time” echo my own. But Adler went further by providing some numbers to back up his statements. Adler’s comments from the article appear in bold; my own thoughts follow. His article is excellent though, and definitely worth the read.

1. Recruiters find people for jobs, not jobs for people. This concept might not seem like a big deal, but it is a huge deal. Recruiters (top recruiters) are not in the business of finding jobs for people, no matter how much an executive might want them to. Responsibility for managing a career belongs with the candidate and should be driven by the candidate, not defaulted to a third party. Not even a recruiter.

2. A person who is referred to a recruiter from a trusted source is 20X more likely to be considered than someone who responded to a job posting. This statistic shows the power of networking. And with recruiters, the importance of networking BEFORE you NEED a new job

3. A person whose resume or LinkedIn profile is found via a Google search is 5X more likely to be considered than someone who applies directly to a job posting. I have been evangelizing the power of a complete and compelling Linkedin profile for years, and my clients have great success with Linkedin as a passive job search strategy. Are you being found on Linkedin for opportunities that a good fit for you?

4. If you’re not a perfect match on skills and experiences, your resume is unlikely to even be read. The posted position game is a con game. It looks easy, seems easy, but it is anything but easy. It is a huge disadvantage to candidates and requires constant reiterations to a resume in order to meet all the requirements of a job posting.

Don’t fall into the con game trap. Otherwise, as Adler says …

When it comes to your career, the worst thing you can do is mistake activity for progress and then complain about your lack of progress.

The Value of a CPA Credential

Nothing generates responses – positive and negative, mostly the latter – like the discussion of the CPA credential. So here goes.

Perception is Everything
Perception is Everything

Perception is in the eye of the beholder. In the case of the hiring process, the beholder is the company who is hiring. The ONLY eyes that matter in the HIRING process are those belonging to the beholder (company). The company is hiring you so it has the right – good, bad, or indifferent – to decide what it perceives as necessary and required in its next Finance hire.

You, the Finance Candidate, do not have the right to determine what a company needs. You might like to have that right. You might believe you have that right. The reality is, you do not.

You can choose to get a CPA and make yourself more competitive –or– choose not to get a CPA and forever fight the perception that candidates with a CPA are more valuable. There is absolutely nothing wrong with choosing not to pursue a CPA. In making that decision though, one needs to accept the reality … it makes competing against CPA Candidates much more challenging when companies list a CPA credential as a requirement of the position.

It sounds harsh and I don’t mean to be. It is a reality. The belief system of the candidate that CPA Candidates are not better than non-CPA Candidates does not matter IF a company – who is hiring – perceives otherwise.

Why, you ask, is she bringing up this painful, hotly contested, very controversial, emotion-producing topic again? Here’s why.

A recent article in Crains Detroit says …

The competition to hire CPAs in metro Detroit has heated up, and accounting professionals are in enough demand that in some instances, salaries are rising and sign-on bonuses are possible.

Where do “most” Chief Financial Officers cut their accounting and finance teeth? This article points to the reality that the CPA is far from dead and gone, replaced by other finance and accounting credentials … and I don’t think this reality is geographically limited to metro Detroit.

Let me be very clear. I do not personally believe CPA Candidates are superior to non-CPA Candidates as a general rule. I have worked with accomplished Finance Chiefs on both sides of the fence.

What I am saying is that if you don’t have a CPA, you may not be competitive for positions requiring that credential (from the company’s viewpoint). Should you successfully network your way in and find yourself with a fighting chance, you are going to have to prove your value far beyond what the CPA Candidate must do.

Value, not Data

I saw an article on come through my email box this week, and a quick scan made me think about my constant evangelizing about career positioning from value rather than responsibilities. Addressing his finance staff, the CFO of Kimberly-Clark, Mark Buthman, said

a CFO “delivers insight, not data ….”

In very much the same way, from a career perspective…

A top-notch Finance Chief showcases value, not responsibilities.

What you do (responsibilities) only matters in the context of how it positively impacts a company (value). If you really want to distinguish yourself from the myriad other candidates, don’t talk about the what (responsibilities), wow them with the how (value).

– Where were you able to mitigate or eliminate potential risk?
– How did you slash costs and what did that mean to the company?
– What problems did you solve that got a company unstuck?
– What can the company now do that it couldn’t do before?

That’s value! That sells! That makes you competitive! Showing how you can take away a company’s chief pain point is power positioning!

Power Positioning
Power Positioning

The Credible CFO Candidate

Are you as credible as a CFO candidate as you think you are? I ask because I’m genuinely concerned about your online credibility and positioning.

I run a CFO Careers group on Linkedin and since it is exclusive to CFOs, I always check profiles of those requesting to join the group. Most of those profiles lend absolutely no credibility to their claim of being a Chief Financial Officer.

This month’s Futures in Finance column details my thoughts on those things that can derail your credibility on Linkedin.

– Having an incomplete profile

– Not having a branded headshot

– No network, a miniscule network, or one that does not reflect your executive status

There are others, but these are key. You can read my thoughts here.

Credible CFO Candidate
Credible CFO Candidate

Short-term Actions Impact Long-Term Positioning

Lou Adler wrote an insightful post for Linkedin recently around the consequences of taking short-term actions without thinking about how those tactics impact one’s longer-term career decisions and positioning.

Of course, making strategic vs. tactical tradeoffs isn’t new, but most people tend to overvalue the short-term benefits, rationalizing, ignoring or minimizing the long-term impact.

Most CFOs and Finance Executives only think about their careers when forced to … they’ve lost a job; they are going to lose a job; or they are desperately unhappy and want to make a move, quickly. The mindset in each of those situations is almost always around executing a short-term strategy to relieve the pain, without thought of the longer-term consequence.

“Your short-term tactics are determining your long-term strategy. You have it backwards. Your strategy needs to drive your tactics.”

Urgent, short-term focused actions are rarely grounded in strategy; rather, they are driven by overwhelm and desperation. Making strategic decisions with tactical information can derail your future career goals – and – leave you dissatisfied while forcing you to jump right back into another short-term tactic known as job search chaos.

The only way to ensure your strategy drives your tactics is to act before you need to act, and then execute those actions consistently and constantly.

Resume Writing

It’s a hot topic over in the Proformative community these days. Is it cheating to have someone else write your resume? Is a resume writing service worth it?

Here’s my two cents on both questions.

Is it cheating?


I have to confess that I laughed when I read the question regarding whether or not it was “cheating” to have someone else write your resume. If putting your best foot forward means you get a haircut, purchase a new suit, whiten your teeth, and/or color the grey in your hair – aren’t all those things also cheating?

When it is time for the interview, is the due diligence one conducts also cheating since it is trying to uncover a company’s need in advance in order to tailor your message to meet that need?

Are athletes on the playing field cheating because they have a coach on the sidelines helping them play their best by identifying changes they need to make in order to perfect their moves?

Your career drives EVERYTHING else in your life including your ability to care for your family. If it is cheating to have an independent person as an advocate in order for you to step outside your own limiting paradigms and unearth, polish, and message your value … then maybe I don’t understand the definition of “cheating.”

IF – and I do mean IF – a resume writer is fabricating your value message, then yes … that is cheating. And you will fail. That should never be the outcome of working with a resume writer or career coach.

Worth it?

The consensus on Proformative is no, it isn’t worth paying a writer. How sad that so many have chosen to go the cheapest route and then come up dissatisfied. The truth is … you do get what you pay for.

If you are a Chief Finance Office or other Finance Executive and you want to pay $350 for someone else to write your resume, save your money and write it yourself. The result will be the same. If that’s the value you place on a marketing document (and ultimately your messaging) that differentiates you through value positioning, then you must not place much value on who you are, what you do, and how you do it.

Not everyone needs a third party writer. In my experience though, most do. The same way you go to someone else for a haircut and purchase rather than make your suit, those other people have a gifting and a talent you don’t … and you recognize that fact and act accordingly.

Your dream position hinges on beating out the competition with a message that flows from your ability to solve problems and deliver value. Unfortunately for many, a message founded on responsibilities – here’s what I did – is often a huge stumbling block. When you change your perspective; you change your messaging. When you change your messaging; you open doors that were otherwise closed to you. That … should make hiring a reputable writer or coach very worthwhile.

Your Brand and Your Email Address

Good, bad, or indifferent, the fact is that today, more than ever, perception is everything. The good news is that you can choose to drive that branded perception. The bad news is few executives choose to invest the time to do so.

Your email address is a great example. What does it say about you? Many would argue it doesn’t matter. In the world of branding, it really does matter. In fact, I would say (and even have said) it matters greatly.

Dinosaur boneyard
Dinosaur boneyard

As CFOs increasingly face a younger and very tech-savvy workforce, your email address can speak volumes. It can help to validate that you are in the 21st Century -or- that you are hanging out in the dinosaur graveyard just biding your time. It can show your willingness to embrace technology -or- your stubborn refusal to embrace change. Remember, perception is in the eye of the beholder.

In a recent FENG newsletter, Dave Morgan of the Detroit Chapter, provided some very interesting insights on email addresses from his perspective as a CFO in the technology industry. With his permission, I am providing an excerpt of his article.

Recently I was the CFO at a software company looking to hire a director of FP&A. Our company’s practice at the time was to roundtable the resumes of all final candidates for senior management roles with all current members of senior management. Any member had a blackball right. (Whether you agree with it or not, that was the company’s practice. Different subject for a different time.) My preferred candidate had a personal email address with a domain name of “” Our CTO mentioned this in the roundtable and everybody quickly shot knowing glances at each other when this fact was surfaced. It was the look of death. No words had to be spoken. (Every member of senior management had a strong tech background.) The candidate was now dead on arrival.

If you have any of the following domain names in your personal email address, your candidacy is probably dead on arrival at any technology company or any tech-aware company:,,, and, yes, even

You’re on life support if you have any of the following domains:,,, and even

This may seem harsh, but it is a reality. Knowledge is power. If you don’t know something is working against you, you can’t fix it. Now that you know, maybe it is time to fix it!