Key mistakes CFOs make when job hunting

Addressing the female recruiter as ‘Sir’, expecting to be allowed to work from home and not tailoring CVs to the role are some of the common mistakes made by CFOs on the job hunt. CFO Magazine’s Nina Hendy speaks with two industry experts to learn more.

The tables have turned. These days, the jobs market is more competitive, meaning that finance leaders need to work harder to have the edge when trying to land a new role.

The market is rough right now, with 200 applications rolling in for each role. Some recruiters are fielding as many as 500 job applications per role, reveals leading Sydney based Job Search Coach and Career Strategist, Alice Cheng, who helps finance professionals put their best foot forward in the job search.

“I haven’t seen the jobs market like this since the GFC. It’s really competitive and the cost of living is impacting turnover rates. People aren’t moving because they seek stability, and there are less roles out there, but many more applicants per role,” she says. 

Despite this, CFOs and finance professionals continue to make amateur mistakes and faux pas, which recruiters have agreed to reveal in the interest of providing a learning opportunity for others.

Regurgitating the same CV

When recruiting for a role, Cheng is often inundated with CVs, wading through a large stack of applications for each role. She’s seen it all before.

One of the first big mistakes she sees is the basic cover letter and CV clearly often used for each role.

“All too often, I see CVs that don’t speak to the job description. Applicants will list all the tasks that they do in their current role, but just because you do something, doesn’t mean you’re good at the task,” Cheng says.

Instead, add in your relevant achievements in your current or past roles. For example, completing month-end on time is your job, so not worth highlighting.

“Instead, include examples of added benefits of you being in the role, such as uncovering $10,000 in cost savings by analysing a certain line item in the financials, which gives us a sense of your achievements,” Cheng says.

“I’ve also seen CVs where they have written a novel about themselves across several pages. No one is going to read that, your CV needs to be short and concise.”

Using a template CV

We’ve never really been taught how to write a good CV, so a lot of people in finance just get a CV template off the internet, and just fill out the blanks, Cheng says.  

“Writing a CV is actually a self discovery journey to really reflect on your career. Share what have you done in each role and share some of the problems that you’re helping to solve, which can help you quantify these things when writing your CV.

“I would like to see less task oriented CVs and instead hear more about the value you would add to a workplace for a potential employer so we can understand the unique superpower you would bring to the role,” Cheng says.

Bear in mind that everyone who applies for a role will fit some of the criteria, so you’ve really got to stand out by driving home what you bring to the role. “The job of a CV is to make it simple for the person reading it to see why they should call you and offer you an interview,” Cheng says.

Making amateur mistakes

You would assume job seekers would list previous roles in chronological order, but not always. Cheng recalls a finance applicant jumbling up their past roles to put jobs more relevant to the role they’re applying higher up in CV.

She’s also seen applicants list irrelevant parts of their lives outside of work, such as volunteering for community groups, which doesn’t really speak to the job description.

“When I see this, I think they are trying to say they were a great community-minded person, but sometimes I see too much of a focus on hobbies and volunteering that they do outside of work, which doesn’t help us understand the skills you would bring to the role,” she says.  

Adding a headshot to the CV

A professional headshot is great, but it shouldn’t be included in the CV. “I’ve also seen people rating themselves using a bar chart with four dots out of five on their Excel skills, these type of things.

“Bear in mind that AI applicant tools don’t like photos or graphs so will probably weed these CVs out, so you’re shooting yourself in the foot before you get started,” Cheng says.

Not preparing for interviews

It’s pretty obvious if you haven’t done your homework before walking through the door, Cheng says.

Don’t be too confident, and don’t lead off with a bunch of questions about the role.

“Instead, wait to be asked if you have questions at the end of the interview. Long pauses, not knowing how to answer questions about the role or turning up in jeans and a t-shirt aren’t a good look. And I always tell people to overdress,” Cheng says.

“The interview is like the big show. Give yourself a good list of questions and practice your responses. Unfortunately a lot of people don’t realise that how they communicate is everything,” she says.  

Highlighting the wrong skillsets

New Zealand’s Angela Cameron also helps finance leaders land the role of their dreams. She often hears finance people speaking about the wrong skillsets for the role they’ve applied for. “I’ve seen people apply for a role and then speak about the skillsets they have that just aren’t relevant to that role,” Cameron says.

A pet peeve is a cover letter that refers to her as “Sir”. “That’s breaking some of the basic recruitment rules, and when it’s for a senior role, it’s just not a good look,” she says.

Cameron reminds job seekers that the job application process starts a long time before the interview. “Generally, we see people coming into the jobs market who regret not spending enough time on their CV,” she says.

“A CFO could be applying for a role paying $170,000 or up to $400,000 to $500,000 that is seeking someone able to achieve magical results. You need to make sure you’re tailoring your resume, no matter what the role is.”

Not preparing for the screen call

A phone call to find out more about your background is a screening opportunity for recruiters who are deciding whether to give you an interview, Cameron explains.

“Before this call, you need to know what the role is about, and make sure you speak clearly about your experience. Have some notes at hand, and make sure you have a good list of questions to ask the recruiter about the role, too, she says. 

Assuming they can work remotely  

The jobs market has changed, and the days of working from home are behind us, Cameron says.

“We see quite a lot of finance people who don’t understand what’s happening in the market. Some people might be currently working in a hybrid way and assume that the next employer will allow them to continue to do that, but companies want to get the team back together, and working from home really isn’t the done thing anymore,” Cameron says.

Leaving their current role too soon

The worst time to look for a job is when you don’t have a job currently, Cameron says.

“Too many are reactionary to the market and there’s restructuring and they end up like a deer in the headlights without a job, and don’t really know what’s next for them.”

She warns CFOs not to get caught out. “The key is to be keep an eye on the jobs market and to be on the books with a couple of good recruiters well before you’re looking for a new role so you’ve got irons in the fire,” she says.