Visibility is a Choice

Last November I wrote a blog post entitled “Is Invisibility Costing You Your Next Position.” Based on the overflow at the CFO conference roundtable, it’s a topic in which CFOs are at least curious, if not flat out interested.

As a result, I recently reposted the piece in a private forum … and received the following response from a reader:

Let’s face it: most “social media” is full of young people because they don’t have anything better to do. It’s less age discrimination and more competency discrimination. People who spend their days Twittering, Blogging, Facebooking and Googling each other aren’t doing their jobs.

Real professionals, people with responsibility, don’t have time to mess around with status updates or wind-bag pontification. Executives who “want to be found” do it through real-world networking. It’s little league to assume that you’ll be hired based on your blog.

A CFO doesn’t have to Facebook or tweet or even blog to leverage social media. But he is absent from Linked In at his own peril.

Without a personal-professional web portfolio, Linked In becomes his home base. It is an effective Web 2.0 version of the old paper corporate bio, and everything he does online points back to his profile. In fact, with the URL as part of his outgoing email signature, his profile has the potential to go viral.

Within Linked In itself, though, are a variety of apps that can help every Finance Executive build his visibility and his value-positioning. For instance,

— Share what you’re reading through the Amazon Reading List.

— If you do presentations with PowerPoint or Keynote, upload your non-proprietary presentations, or portions of your presentations, in Google Presentations or Slideshare.

— Create video clips of speaking engagements and attach them to your profile.

And be sure to use the Linked In status update bar to share resources, speaking engagements, and conferences you’re attending with your network.

All of these things are, in my humble opinion, critically important for raising visibility among a CFO’s target audience as well as recruiters who specialize in your area of expertise.

You don’t have to tweet, or Facebook, or even blog. But choosing not to embrace social media, even minimally, is choosing to be invisible … particularly sans a solid, offline network.

 

World Class Positioning

My roundtables at the CFO Core Concerns conference on Tuesday morning were on the importance of attaining world class positioning. My first table was full. My second table was overflowing.

I’m delighted to see that Finance Executives are attuned to the paradigm shift of career management. Who wants to be a hunter when you can be hunted? But it takes world class positioning, and they are beginning to understand that premise.

A lack of positioning is a bit like the cliche “if a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, does it make a sound?” If you are the greatest thing since sliced bread but no one knows about the great contributions you’ve made, does it matter?

Here are a few of the things we discussed:

Begin by creating a plan and working your plan. Another old, but appropriate, adage … “failing to plan is planning to fail.” Run your career like you run your business and you’ll never be caught unprepared or ill-prepared.

Understand your positioning. What are your strengths, skills, and passions and how have they contributed to your success? What do you love doing and want to do more of? If you have to work, shouldn’t you at least be doing something that is meaningful and enjoyable and honors your values?

Identify your target audience. Who needs the expertise you bring, and would be willing to pay – well – to get it?

Once you have clarity around these three areas, consistently raise your visibility among your target audience. If the people who need to know about you don’t know about you, you don’t have world class positioning. Conversely, you will know you’ve been effective when recruiters are calling you, regularly, for the kinds of positions that are a good fit with your expertise – and – fit with your senior executive stature.

Finance Executives, Branded Visibility, and their Career

Two weeks ago in my Online ID re-cert class, I heard this astonishing statement … talented high school kids were not getting accepted into their college of choice because of the lack of a branded online ID.

One very smart FENG member recently connected the dots …

“I heard the NPR report on college admitting committees and wondered if there was applicability to us. They are receiving historically high numbers of perfectly qualified candidates, between whom it is hard to distinguish. According to the report, they make the biggest distinctions among them based on 1) distinctive or unusual backgrounds 2) passion for subject areas, business or personal, both covered or not covered in the program, just intellectual passion in general.”

If I might answer the opening statement. Yes! This is precisely about branded visibility. If you can’t stand out from the competition, then you will be lost among them. And if you look like every other Chief Financial Officer or Finance Executive, how will the company distinguish that you are the best qualified for the position?

Branded visibility. CFOs need it. And their high schoolers need it. Branding is no longer an option. To stand out from the competition, it’s now a necessity.

And it is branded visibility. you can be totally on-brand but if no one knows about you, will it matter?

If you want to learn how to use branded visibility to advance your finance career, join us for the CFO.com webinar on April 12 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern.

The CFO Track

There is an interesting study from Ernst & Young on the career path to the CFO for the top EMEIA (Europe, Middle East, India, and Africa) companies. I’ve provided some of my thoughts compared to what I’m seeing in the States …

— The MBA was the most important educational consideration in the rise to CFO with only 3% holding both the MBA and an accounting background.

This is vastly different than what we see nationally with many CFO job descriptions “requiring” or “preferring” a CPA. In my conversation with an executive recruiter yesterday, he said his CFO profile always includes a public accounting background.

— 70% of the CFO hires came from a different sector.

While that is a very high stat, I do see that trend here in the States as well. Companies are recognizing that a breath of fresh air from outside the industry can help them to stop doing what they’ve been doing in order to get different results, even if that difference is merely getting unstuck.

— 57% were internal hires vs. 43% external hires.

These numbers align pretty well with CFO.com’s stats last November where 57% of Fortune 1000 company CFOs were promoted from within. What is worth noting stateside is this … 59% of those CFOs who were hired externally were sitting CFOs. It remains very challenging to secure the CFO seat if you haven’t held the CFO title sans an internal promotion.

— Operations-oriented divisions account for 26% of the CFO hires.

This isn’t at all surprising. In fact, it’s a bit low when compared to the recent Accenture study which says 59% of all finance executives are consistently involved with improving operational performance. Of those 59%, 24% have daily and 44% have weekly communications with their operations counterparts.

Another very interesting point from the Accenture study … “Respondents overwhelmingly select interpersonal, communication, and leadership skills as having a substantial impact on their professional effectiveness.” What are you doing today to build your professional skill set for tomorrow?

Passive vs. Unemployed

The debate goes on and on. And Recruiter Mark Bregman just stirred the pot  a little more with his recent post, “True or False: Available Job Candidates are Better than Ever”?

Even with an advertised unemployment rate of 10%, the perception by many recruiters and companies is that the A-players are the ones that are still employed. Therefore, in the war for top talent, the passive candidate is still the top target and the preferred prospect.

It’s not fair. And it may not even be true. But the world we live in today is based on perceptions. So …

If you are employed currently, but might consider a move within the next 1 to 3 years, begin executing your career management plan today. If you want the recruiters beating down your door as a high-value target, then you must understand your value proposition and begin creating subject matter expert positioning while you are the most marketable.

If you are unemployed, your challenge is much more difficult. Part of that difficulty comes from a) not understanding what it is about you that makes you marketable, particularly if you did not work yourself out of the job; b) relying too heavily on job postings; and / or c) a defeated or negative aura that can manifest itself in desperation after a period of months with no prospects in sight. My recommendations are a) be clear about your value and who would be willing to pay to get it, b) move away from the job postings game because it is ineffective and a waste of your valuable job search time, and c) drop any negativity or desperation off the nearest 20-foot floor building.

Even if things pick up mid-January, and that looks positive, it will remain an employer’s market. Companies will continue to want the right, top-notch Finance Leaders who are a great fit with their existing culture rather than the “perceived” B- or C-players who are more readily available.

Linked In, Facebook, and Finance Executives

Are there any synergies created for CFOs and other Finance Executives by using both Linked In and Facebook? I’ve actually blogged about this several times in the past, but the question was raised again … so I’m happy to respond again.

I believe there are synergies. The traditional view, and one that is held by many Chief Financial Officers and Senior Finance Executives is, draw a line in the sand and never the two shall mix. With all due respect to those who hold that view, it’s an outdated view for many of the reasons I cite in my previous post about CFOs missing the social media boat, and the sequel.

Here’s the skinny from my humble vantage point … 

In the tough and competitive job search climate today, a presence on Facebook combined with a strong professional presence on Linked In can actually work to a candidate's benefit … if done correctly. The ability of a candidate to showcase a 360-perspective is very restrictive on Linked In. Facebook, on the other hand, is much more open and transparent (hobbies, interests, circle of friends, communication style, including grammar and spelling). And, Facebook privacy controls help to keep private things private and non-private things public.

Culture fit is the most difficult part of hiring today. With a branded Linked In presence and a professional / personal Facebook presence, a recruiter and/or a company get a much more accurate, and complete, picture of a potential candidate. When you walk into a room … that picture already precedes you and can give you a huge advantage over the competition during the interview process – your fit with the company culture has already been decided.  

The more tools you use, the more of a time drain social media “can” become. However, with all the seamless integration now available across platforms, it is almost painless to create one post and populate your Linked In status bar, Facebook page, and even Twitter simultaneously. 

And that is all good for building density around a digital footprint that screams … Subject Matter Expert … while separating you from the competition.

Your Brand (Image) Precedes You

Over the past few months, I’ve noticed many more of my CFO clients choosing branding packages over the standard marketing document packages. Then, as usually happens before I write a blog post, a couple of things along that line caught my attention. In particular, this snippet from a FENG member in a recent newsletter …

… there was a section entitled "See yourself as Others See You" that was quite helpful. For example, when I see myself as thoughtful, a good listener, and considerate under pressure someone else may perceive that as non-demonstrative, unconcerned, and hesitant! So I really agree with one of your summary statements: "You really need to be as correct as possible about the 'person' you are projecting."

Be as correct as possible about the person you are projecting. 

Just pause for a moment and let that realization sink in. The writer offered a good analogy and it affirms that who we believe we are is often perceived differently by others. What are you projecting to others that might unintentionally be sending the wrong message?

The easy answers revolve around age. Since most Chief Financial Officers and other Senior Finance Executives are rarely spring chickens, what message is your brand sending to people in advance of meeting you?

–Rather than wearing your battle scars proudly, are you really conveying near extinction?

–Have wisdom and contributions been trumped by difficulties and responsibilities?

Beyond age, how are you perceived by others?

–As an administrator or a leader?

–An executive who empowers or who micromanages?

–A finance nerd or one who owns the seat at the executive table?

Perhaps, through bad economic circumstances,

–Your resume is in all the job boards making you appear desperate.

–You worked yourself out of a job but your resume screams “unemployed.”

Understanding how others perceive you is the first step in the branding process. Without that knowledge, it’s impossible to create and then take the steps necessary to reinforce what’s true or alter what’s not. That message is apparently resonating with more and more finance executives. 

What image is preceding you … and is it true?

Unplugged

How, or even whether, finance executives “unplug” while on vacation has been a hot topic this summer. 

In June, CFO.com reported survey results from Robert Half Management Resources

More than two-thirds, 69%, said they typically check in with work at least once or twice a week during their summer vacations, only a slight dip from the 74% tallied five years ago. Thirty-three percent of those surveyed check in at least once a day and sometimes more. Only about a quarter said they don't check in at all.

With only 26% of CFOs reporting that they unplug totally on vacations, Accounting SmartPros listed five tips to help finance executives plan their unplugged getaways.

Interestingly, a tweet from one of my followers in mid-summer said this …

My wife and I, on vacation, kids asleep, sitting on the couch, & what are we doing? Checking our Twitter feeds on our phones!

Although they weren’t “working,” they weren’t unplugged either. It describes our new culture of constant connectedness which is somewhat anti-socially social. 

Our poll at SmartBrief for CFOs last week asked about being unplugged during vacations. It apparently struck a nerve with that audience, eliciting a very high number of responses. While the numbers were quite similar to the RHMR survey, I found the 25% who said they were really just working in a vacation environment very telling.

That response may speak to a bigger story … and that is succession planning. The most brilliant of leaders are always grooming their successor (and I by no means am implying anything here). While this doesn’t preclude a CFO from having to handle a major issue while on vacation, it might allow him to feel confident that short of a “true emergency,” he, his company, and his career are all on solid footing while he’s incommunicado. And that security and freedom to totally get away can be a much needed refresh and recharge for finance leaders today.

The truth is that ensuring you have a well-groomed successor, rather than being a threat to your position, actually frees you to make the next move in your career, adds to your leadership skill set, and looks great on your resume. 

With Labor Day and the end of summer right around the corner, what can you put into place today that will allow you to have a fully, unplugged mental health holiday on your next vacation?

Job Boards and Senior Executives

Call me cynical but, I saw this tweet …

Join this great jobs site… They have thousands of pre-screened 100K jobs – check em out 

… and just had to shake my head. Job boards are to job seekers what the lottery is to the millions who play every week. The odds are just not in your favor. Sure there’s a lottery winner every week – with emphasis on the “a.” 

It’s no secret that I am NOT a fan of job boards. Particularly for finance executives or other C-Suite executives. Oh, they have their place and certainly can, and perhaps even should, be a search strategy. Again with emphasis on the “a.” However, job boards should never be the sum total of a search strategy.

One of my issues is that most people quickly fall into the deception that job boards make it so easy to get a job that they don’t do the hard work required to actually find a job. If anything, scanning posted positions a a sole search strategy turns into a complete waste of time and exercise in futility. The rejection is fierce and the ego is crushed.

And Linked In groups that are targeted solely to job seekers are really not that much different. This is a great list, but my recommendation would be to NOT use 25 of your allotted 50 group memberships on “job search” groups. All you’ll really be doing is hanging out with other unemployed people and folks like me. Select 5 or so job search groups and then join groups that allow you to show off your expertise and will win the attention of recruiters who are looking for top talent.

The jobs CFOs and senior finance executives want are rarely going to be found on a public job board.

And I won’t even discuss job fairs, other than to see this is a pretty funny article!

Career Damage Control

Recently I stumbled across a primer on common career management misconceptions. Managing your career isn’t rocket science, but it is challenging to get in front of, and drive, your career rather than finding yourself reacting to a trigger event. The author says …

Most people do not believe in career management, they only believe in career damage control – which means when something goes wrong they will fix it. Until then, most people don’t bother to manage their careers to prevent disasters from occurring in the first place.

Isn’t that a truism for many of the problems / challenges we face. As long as it’s small and isn’t causing pain, it either doesn’t make the To Do list or it keeps being recycled from one day to the next. It’s only when the pain becomes unbearable that we decided to do anything about it, and then the solution seems monumental. We’re now in reactive, rather than proactive, mode … running hard to try to get in front of the boulder that is threatening to flatten us.

With my finance executives, I find that they are usually so focused on the job that they shelve any thought of long term career management. For today, they have a job, usually an all-consuming job, and getting through the problems, challenges, issues, and situations for “that” particular day are key. Pretty soon, weeks or months or years have passed and the one thing that funds everything else in your life is either in jeopardy or gone … your job. And suddenly, you’re in damage control mode.

It is much, much more difficult to launch a job search when you are unemployed. It’s just a fact. Even if you put aside a company’s / recruiter’s preference for the “passive” candidate, unemployment brings worry, fear, frustration, anxiety, sometimes anger, and even desperation – none of which are attractive in a job search candidate!

As challenging as it might seem to add one more appointment to your already crazy schedule, it is the one way to ensure you drive your career decisions. The reality is that your only security is producing a bottom line that keeps your Board, CEO, and shareholders happy. And sometimes, even that isn’t enough.