The Journal of Accountancy ran a rather thorough article detailing skill sets, thought processes, and behavior patterns that are helpful toward achieving the CFO role. Although perhaps dated in some respects, the article has a number of worthwhile insights, and here is a summary:
- Priority #1 for an aspiring CFO is understanding strategy. See the “big picture” of how the organization creates value in the marketplace.
- The CFO is the CEO’s right hand. If you aspire to this role, make sure the CEO knows it. Demonstrate that you can think like a member of the board of directors and that you take seriously what the board thinks, just as the CEO does.
- Go beyond numbers and accounting. In addition to technical acumen, develop “soft” and “people” skills.
- “Look for what the market wants rather than what you want.”
- “Focus on the job content and reporting relationship.” Don’t worry too much about your title as you develop your career, strengthen your skill sets, and work on achieving your goals.
- Have a positive attitude, ask questions, and demonstrate willingness to get involved with other teams in the organization.
- The CFO must understand operations and technology. This is a persistent theme throughout much of the literature on the topic of CFO skill sets.
- Decision-making and CPA or MBA skill sets are advantageous for differentiating your candidacy for the CFO role, possibly even more so than specific industry experience. That said, breaking into a new industry requires lots of time and hard work.
- Getting some corporate treasury or controller experience is important, as opposed to exclusively focusing on public accounting. However, working in public accounting for awhile can strengthen accounting and regulatory compliance skill sets.
- “Organizations typically want to hire a CFO who’s been a CFO.” Therefore, an aspiring CFO must develop a strategy for effective positioning as CFO material.
- Do research on an organization before interviewing, determine the company’s needs, and based on what you learn, put together a proposal demonstrating your ability to be on senior management’s problem-solver team.
- Be a self-starter, and study your organization, industry, competition, and benchmarks.
- Be a team and consensus builder who can operate cross-functionally.
- Seek out opportunities to broaden your horizons and skill sets by taking initiative and participating in various types of roles and projects in your organization.
- Maintain your reputation and integrity. You must be loyal and trustworthy.
- “Self-confidence is persuasive to your superiors.”
This is a long list, and it’s only a summary of some of the many points within the article. These ideas can help an aspiring CFO understand how to become positioned for the role through undertaking career development initiatives.