By Cindy Kraft, RCPBS, RCOIS, CCM, CCMC, CPRW, JCTC
The times, they are a’changing. Despite the truth of the lyrics from Bob Dylan’s song, there is one constant in the career arena. You are the only one who is looking out for your best interests. The days of hiring on with a company and retiring with a Rolex are gone forever. Those times have changed.
While the average tenure of a finance executive is three years and could be as short as 18 months, those numbers are actually tending downward. Citigroup has just hired its 3rd CFO in less than a year. CFOs (and their bosses) are vacating their offices at an alarming clip. Future change is inevitable.
Here are five power strategies for getting a jump on more effectively managing your career. Select just one and begin immediately, and you’ll be one step closer to effecting change … for the better.
Power Strategy #1: Create a Plan, and then Work Your Plan
Do the one thing for your career that you do so well for your company. Run your career like your run your business … create a plan and plan for the unexpected.
Today, you are the most marketable and hold the greatest power when you are employed … a passive candidate who is NOT actively looking for a position but is open to hearing about potential opportunities. The senior finance executive, who brings a compelling record of performance, is the most desired and sought–after candidate.
That means, the time to begin planning for your next move is while you are still “passive” and with no immediate or imminent move, planned or unplanned. Where do you want to be in 18 months? Three years? Five years? What do you enjoy doing, and want to do more of? What parts of your job do you dislike and want to do less of? What companies or industries need what you have to offer?
If you don’t know those answers, you are leaving your career, the one thing that funds everything else in your life, in the hands of someone who is most likely looking out for his own best interests rather than yours.
Power Strategy #2: Build and then Manage Your Digital Footprint
This growing trend is not going anywhere in the near future. If recruiters and companies within your target market don’t know you exist, how will you be found for those opportunities that are a great fit for you? If you aren’t in the places where savvy recruiters are looking (not the job boards), it will be difficult to execute your plan in the time frame you desire.
If you are not yet at the top of the corporate ladder, a compelling digital footprint can help position you to move up. Perhaps the CFO role is your goal. Maybe you are already a CFO, but haven’t received an invite to the executive table yet. If you are already part of the executive management team, what’s the next move? Google can be your best friend in facilitating what’s next – or – destroying the next step if a) you don’t exist; b) the message about you is not clear and consistent; or c) digital dirt has taken over your footprint.
At minimum, a stellar public profile should be visible in Linked In, Google, Zoom Info, Ziggs, Naymz, and even Facebook. Since recruiters look in all of these places, along with Googling your name to find out what else is available to back up or conflict with what you’ve written, it is critical to build and proactively manage your visible online presence … especially as a desirable passive candidate.
One of my clients, in the course of joining groups on Linked In, came across a recruiter job posting that appeared as if it was written for him. In fact, upon sending his resume the recruiter immediately contacted him asking if he had modified his profile and resume to the position. He didn’t. He was clear about his strengths, marketable value proposition, and target market. He is currently in the running as one of three finalists for that CFO position.
If you are a senior finance executive and would like an invitation to join Linked In so you can leverage an established network, please send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) with “Linked In” in the subject line and I’ll be happy to send you an invitation to join my network.
Two ways to build visibility and distinguish yourself from the competition are blogging and twittering. Senior finance executives are just now beginning to embrace this technology so it’s a good time for you to become an industry early adopter as part of an overall career management plan.
Power Strategy #3: Create Meaningful Relationships
Networking is not a stop-and-go strategy. It should not be something you begin when you need a job. And, it is not a collection of names on business cards that take up space on your desk and attract dust.
Networking is an interactive, continuous conversation and the time to build it is when you don’t need it. That allows you to adopt the mindset of helping others before you need to ask for their help.
What I have found after almost 14 years of coaching senior finance executives is that most of them have been so busy working in their jobs that they have no time to work on their career, and that includes networking. Sound familiar? If you take nothing else from this article, hear me now. Networking is your lifeline. If you wait to start networking until you need help, it is too late.
According to an ExecuNet analysis of search firm activities, networking ranks first among recruiter activities, followed closely by online research. Reach out, and then stay connected. If you talked with only one person a day for five days a week over four months, that would be 80 people. Think of the impact to your network by reaching out to one person a day.
I’ll be the first to admit that networking is time consuming. Especially face-to-face networking. Lunch meetings always take much longer than an hour, particularly when taking into account commute time. End-of-day cocktail/dinner meetings cut into family time and can be completely ineffective. Especially, if attending the same meeting each month is your only networking strategy. Then the tendency is to unwind and catch up with friends rather than strategically network.
So from an executive perspective, here are two excellent ways to build your offline network while positioning yourself for that next strategic leadership role. First, become a Mentor … and second, seek out a Mentor. With succession planning key to companies’ retention planning, being a mentor looks good on your resume while building your network. Having a mentor puts that person’s circle of influence at your disposal.
Power Strategy #4: Track Your Contributions
There is little, if any, value in contributions that can’t be measured. Reducing costs, driving profitability, strengthening financial operations, reducing risk, enhancing shareholder value, turning around a failing organization … these are what I call vague generalities. How many finance executives do you know who aren’t using at least some of those terms?
Those words, without quantification, delegate candidates to commodity status … one of many who all say the same thing, sound like, and therefore look alike. What will differentiate you and propel you to the front of the pack are two things. Why you did what you did and what the measurable and/or long–term impact was as a result.
Why say this …
“Conceived and executed a readiness plan to provide a platform for growth for 15 stores.”
When you could say this?
“Led the aggressive high–growth initiative to design and execute a multi–channel concept to exploit the rapidly growing xx industry, opening 4 additional stores and launching an e–commerce site that captured double–digit sales growth from 2005 to 2008.”
Remember, you are being hired because there is a problem, challenge, situation, or pain an organization needs fixed. Position yourself as a problem solver who delivers a measurable impact and you will differentiate yourself from the others. Relying on what you did (responsibilities) relegates you to commodity status. Commoditization occurs as a goods or services market loses differentiation (Wikipedia).
Almost every one of your competitors will be able to say they have done the same, or very similar things … graduated with a degree in finance or accounting, began their career in public accounting, secured their CPA, climbed the corporate ladder. It’s not what is the same about you and them, it is what is different and unique … and which a company is willing to pay to get … that will win you the interview and the position.
Power Strategy #5: Do Something … and Do It Differently
Last June, Ernst & Young conducted a survey of 250 C-suite executives from companies generating in excess of $1 billion annually with operations within the US, Europe, and Asia. The questions posed to this survey group dealt specifically with the role of CFOs. Globally, 31% of the respondents agreed that CFOs did not have enough understanding of the wider issues that businesses face.
Today, the trend is towards Operational CFOs who hold an MBA and bring a broader education & finance perspective, along with a strong ability to synthesize information. CEOs and Boards will demand their Chief Financial Officers possess broader-based skills as they seek business strategists and leaders in filling that role.
These CFOs will be futuristic, visionary, and strategic … and invaluable to guiding the company’s future path. As the financial markets turmoil and economic crisis continues, and perhaps deepens, an operational background will become even more coveted. Here’s why …
CFOs can take over the COO’s role; but a Chief Operations Officer – without a finance background – can NOT step into the CFO role. In fact, according to Execunet, 2 of the 8 most in demand job functions include operations management & finance. Perhaps the most valuable quality a finance executive can possess today is flexibility and responsiveness to significant swings in a fast-changing market.
One of the rules in successful sales is to do what your competition is not doing. That’s a good rule to follow in managing your career too, since most candidates play it too safe. Leverage your differentiation by focusing on how your unique background and expertise have combined to positively impact your previous companies.