CFOs are Influencers, but NOT when Unemployed

CFO Research released a study showing that CFO influence was on the rise. And by a pretty wide margin with 17% indicating their influence was “greatly” enhanced and 55% weighing in at “somewhat” enhanced. Here’s the quote:

... finance chiefs say their positions were enhanced by the turmoil of the economic downturn, as everyone from the CEO to junior staffers looked to finance for guidance on how to cope with volatility on both the micro and macro levels.

There is no question that CFOs are needed and that great CFOs are in high demand. Top-notch CFOs remain high-value targets for companies and recruiters. And, I’ll really go out on a limb and say that the demand for top-notch CFOs isn’t going to diminish anytime in the foreseeable future.

But then there’s this from a Wall Street Journal article:

… about 4.4 million Americans have been looking for jobs for at least a year—and that doesn’t include the ones who have given up.

The cold, hard facts are truly cold and cruel. But it is a reality in the world today. Here’s another one … all things being equal (your skill set and your contributions), the moment you walk out the door with a big, fat severance package – but unemployed – you just made finding that next CFO role, among the limited opportunities, that much more difficult on yourself.

You can’t be a top-notch influencer when you aren’t in a position to influence. The new year is rapidly approaching and with more economic uncertainly expected, there has never been a better time to make sure you are visibly positioned as a passive, in-demand, A-player.

The Recession, Unemployment, & CFOs

In a recent SmartBrief poll, 72.5% of surveyed companies indicated they had unfilled openings. With almost 10% unemployment, I find that curious, don’t you?

Yesterday I had the pleasure of chatting with Recruiter Samuel Dergel of CFO2Grow in Canada on his thoughts about this issue.

Samuel believes one reason for so many unfilled positions is that companies are deluded by a flawed “recession mindset.” That is, the belief that there is an abundant of available talent and it need only post the opening and that talent will rush in the door.

I’m not sure that it is purely a “recession mindset,” I actually believe the hiring process is, and has been, completely broken and I wrote about this several years ago in my article, “Everybody Lies.”

It seems pretty obvious that companies ARE hiring! That’s a very high number of unfilled openings. However, companies want, and are willing to wait for, top talent. I loved Samuel’s analogy … companies aren’t looking for top talent lying on the ground (chronically unemployed with no value proposition), they’re looking at the top of the tree (passive candidates).

Long-term unemployment compensation “seems” like a good thing when you don’t have a job. But at the end of 2 or, unbelievably 3, years … will you even be employable? It won’t be enough to hang a shingle on your door that says “consultant” for the benefit of your resume, unless you were actually consulting and have deliverables and references available to back up your position. Many of the jobs, and even skill sets, that will exist in 3 years aren’t even known today. If you’re out of the workforce long term, it will be extremely difficult to be a competitive candidate.

Samuel and I agree that today’s high-value CFO is, above all things, strategic. A leader who can vision and guide initiatives from the Executive Table, not just crunch numbers from the back office.

In a webinar on yesterday, the presenter indicated the average tenure of a CFO today is 26 months. My best advice as a career coach is that every top talented Chief Financial Officer apply that same “strategic mindset” to his career. If it’s true that the talent companies want is at the top of the tree, not lying on the ground … and I believe it is … it’s critical to figure out where you want to go and how to get there, long before you desire to make a move.

CFO Contingency Plan

Or, Redundancy-Proofing. Or, Career Survival Plan. Whatever the name, the result is the same … ensuring that in these tough, very competitive times you don’t find yourself on the street before you start looking for your next position.

As the lead Finance Executive, you would never run your company on the haphazard basis most people, not just Chief Financial Officers, run their careers. With your company, you have systems and measurements in place, a 3-to-5-year plan, and shorter goals you work towards on a daily or weekly basis.

It’s like steering the Titanic. Slow and steady makes the turn. But if you’re inches from the iceberg (unemployment), it is impossible to do the things you need to do in order to avert disaster.

There is little corporate loyalty today. As the CFO or Senior Finance Executive, the bottom line on the P&L statement stops with you. The moment the Board is unhappy, the CEO starts leaning harder, credit / cash issues continue, or the diminished staff is less and less productive and more and more whiney, the bottom line is impacted and it is your neck that has the potential to move closer and closer to the chopping block.

–Do you have any contingency plan in place in the event you do lose your job?

–Have you reached out to anyone in your network in the last year?

–Will your personal marketing documents be ready should someone ask for them?

–Are you visible to your target audience?

–Have you even identified your target audience?

–Do you know and can you articulate your value proposition?

Several months ago I was engaged by a client who worked himself out of his last position. He told me when we started that his goal was to be employed in 2 months, but until his call to me he had done nothing else. He is in a tough industry and now wore the stigma of “unemployment.” Before we could work together, I was forced to disabuse him of that unrealistic expectation. That false expectation served no good purpose for either of us. It’s been 5 months and he has had no less than 6 potential opportunities for at least 4 of those months. However, while no one will tell him definitively “no,” each one of them is continuing to string him along while taking their sweet time getting to “yes.”

The corporate decision to hire is agonizingly slow for many candidates. And that agony is exacerbated if there was no contingency plan in place and the job loss was unexpected. Desperation forces candidates to make choices and decisions they would not otherwise make if they were executing a solid contingency plan. Remember, “he who fails to plan, plans to fail.”

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. 

Superstar Executives

An interesting article by John Hollon on ERE inspired my SmartBrief for CFOs poll last week on the quality of the last hire. The results of the poll … once again … triggered more questions on my end since of those polled, only 27% indicated their last hire was a superstar while almost 50% indicated their last hire was either safe or forgettable.

So I wonder, why make a mediocre hire instead of a superstar hire when the cost of recruiting that person is the same either way. The salary of a superstar shouldn’t cost more since he should be able to save or make a company more than the cost of his salary. 

Then I saw this article posted on Newsweek this morning with a subtitle that reads … “Despite record unemployment, recruiters are desperate for top talent.” 

Perhaps that answers at least one of my questions. Ho hum hires are made because the superstars can’t be found.  Which begs the question … “why” can’t they be found?

— Top talent doesn’t exist. 

— The message of superstar executives is not compelling, isn’t resonating with its target audience, or is completely mute.

— Recruiters aren’t looking for “unemployed” executives. It’s a sad reality and I’ve blogged about this many times. The moment you walk out the door on Friday afternoon with a big fat severance package in your pocket, you also wear the black mark of unemployment. Your marketability takes a hit despite the fact that your skill set and contributions remain the same.

Are you a superstar and are recruiters finding you? If so, you’re apparently in the minority and definitely a high-value target.

The “Spaghetti” Job Search Strategy

There’s a lot of angst in the LinkedIn CFO group this morning. Not hearing back from recruiters these days is enough to send even the most stable senior finance executive to the edge of the cliff after a period of unemployment. The job search system is already flawed, and the Internet has exacerbated the breakdown … candidates send resumes to a big black hole and never hear back from anyone. If you haven’t read my article “Everybody Lies,” email me and I’ll be happy to send it your way. 

Anyway, the flawed search strategy that almost every job seeker uses is what I call the “spaghetti strategy.” They throw their resume into the black hole hoping it will stick to something. It doesn’t have to be the “right” thing, just, please, let it be “something.”  

When HR has posted a position or a recruiter has been hired to do a specific search, they are in “screen out” mode. If you don’t meet these specific requirements – every one of them – you’re out. And, short of a solid long-term relationship with a recruiter that might sway them, there is nothing you can do about it.

Playing the posted position game elicits this advice from some … “you must modify your resume for every position to which you apply.” That is because when you are throwing your resume into the black hole and hoping it will stick to something, it requires you to be “all things to all people.” You’re like a chameleon constantly changing colors depending on where you’re standing … or in this case, depending on what the job posting says. 

I believe there is a search strategy is that far more effective, much less anxiety-inducing, and focuses on what you want rather than anything that’s available. It is hard work AND it requires you to move away from the job boards and into a position of strength. 

You first need to identify your sweet spot. Business coach Deborah Gallant, in summarizing points from “What Would Google Do,” said this …

“Mass market are irrelevant, it’s all about niches: identifying what you do really well and doing it supremely well.”

The next step is figuring out who needs what you do really well and then how you can get on their radar screen. Whether that company has a position posted is irrelevant because if you can take away their current pain, having a conversation with you is always an option. It’s hard work, certainly more challenging than the spaghetti strategy, and generally much more effective! 

Now is not the time to be an ostrich!

In popular mythology, the ostrich is famous for hiding its head in the sand at the first sign of danger. With nothing but bad news for the past several weeks, it feels like dangerous times … particularly where job–security and finances are concerned.

In such scary times, paralysis can set in … and I’m hoping you won’t get caught with your head in the sand!

Last week I spoke with the Vice President of a privately–held bank in New York City, where she spent the last 20 years … up until a month ago when she was let go, told to pack up her things, and then escorted to the door. Kicked to the curb without so much as an explanation and without any advance warning. She is grieving a devastating loss on so many levels, one of which is her identity as an independent single woman. Imagine the identity crisis when you are a man supporting a family, and you find yourself in similar shoes.

Your marketability is never higher than when you are employed and open to hearing about new opportunities (a passive candidate); bring a solid record of accomplishments; backed by a visible and credible, online presence.

If you aren’t 100% positive you will have your job tomorrow, today is a great day to figure out why someone else would want to hire you and then diligently put that message out to your target market.