When your accounting firm is in the market for a new chief financial officer, you probably already know lots of great accountants who would love to have the job. You also probably know enough to look for a qualified financial analyst with the experience to assess data, analyze trends, and forecast the budget for you. Picking the right one isn’t as easy as that, though. Accounting firms have special needs that force you to be extra careful when hiring for this key position. Here are four criteria to look for in your accounting firm’s next CFO:
- Education is nice, but experience is key. Most financial analysts go through a similar conveyor belt education: BA in accounting or finance, work as an assistant somewhere prestigious, and back to school for an MBA. When you’re looking over a dozen cookie-cutter resumes like that, remember that a CFO is, fundamentally, the place for somebody with horse sense and good instincts. Those can only come through experience. Say you have two CFO candidates. Both are about 40, but one has been working as an assistant and analyst for 18 years, ever since college, while the other has twin MBAs in accounting and finance. The latter could probably write a book about analysis methods, while the former may have been actually doing it for twice as long.
- Skip the geniuses and find a team player. A CFO is part of the management team, not a mad scientist in a lab. More than anything else, your CFO needs to effectively communicate with the team to learn where the firm is going and to report on its progress. This is especially true for accounting firms where the rest of the management team is likely to have a similar background and understanding of financial analysis.
- Short-term thinkers need not apply. The point of hiring a CFO is to project the firm’s fortunes. A CFO who doesn’t set and track goals further out than next quarter’s returns is doing a staff accountant’s job, not that of a strategic-thinking executive.
- Size (of data sets) matters. CFOs are, before anything else, analysts. Be sure yours has experience with big data sets, which is increasingly where financial analysis is going.
Accounting firms have special needs when hiring CFOs. [Look for experienced team players who think long-term, and you should be fine.]