How to Interview a CFO: A Guide for Employers

September 28, 2023

Hiring a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) is one of the most important decisions an organization can make. He is not only responsible for managing the financial operations and reporting of the company but also for shaping its financial strategy and driving its growth. A CFO can have a significant impact on the company’s performance, profitability, and valuation.

A study by EY found that 70% of CFOs say they have been more involved in strategy development over the past three years1. These findings suggest that there is huge demand for the role and it is evolving from a financial steward to a strategic partner and leader.

Inflation poses a significant challenge for businesses, as they have to cope with rising costs, changing demand, and an uncertain future. That’s why businesses need a CFO, who can help them navigate through these turbulent times. With economic pressures mounting, 77% of CFOs are adopting new cost-cutting measures2. But cost-cutting is not enough. You also need a CFO who can create and execute a financial strategy that can help your company grow and thrive in an inflationary environment.

In this article, we will provide you with a comprehensive guide on how to master the CFO interview process.

1. Preparing for the CFO Interview

Before you start interviewing CFO candidates, you need to prepare yourself and your team for the process. Preparation is key to ensuring that you have a clear and consistent vision of what you are looking for and how to measure it.

The first step is to align the interview process with the company’s financial goals. The role and responsibilities of the CFO should be defined in relation to the current and future financial challenges and opportunities. The key performance indicators (KPIs) that will help evaluate the CFO’s impact on the bottom line should also be identified.

The second step is to create a tailored job description that reflects your specific needs and expectations. You need to outline the qualifications, skills, and experience that you require from a CFO candidate. The benefits and incentives that are offered to attract top talent should also be highlighted.

The third step is to plan the interview structure and timeline. The number of rounds of interviews, the participants in each round, the duration and format of each interview, and the schedule of the interviews should be decided. The candidates should be informed clearly about the interview process in advance.

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2. Crafting Strategic CFO Interview Questions

Here are some examples of strategic CFO interview questions that interviewer can use or adapt for their own purposes:

  • Tell me about a time when you led or contributed to a major financial initiative or project in your previous or current role. What was the goal, what was your role, what were the challenges, how did you overcome them, and what were the results?
  • How do you approach financial planning and budgeting? What tools and methods do you use? How do you ensure alignment with the company’s strategic objectives and priorities?
  • How do you monitor and report on the company’s financial performance? What metrics and indicators do you use? How do you communicate them to different audiences (e.g., board members, investors, employees)?
  • How do you manage financial risks and uncertainties? What are some of the potential risks or threats that could affect our company’s financial stability or growth? How would you mitigate or prevent them?
  • How do you leverage data and analytics to support financial decision-making? What are some of the data sources or platforms that you use or recommend? How do you ensure data quality and accuracy?
  • How do you foster a culture of financial accountability and transparency within the organization? How do you collaborate with other departments or functions to ensure financial alignment and integration?

These questions are designed to elicit specific examples and evidence from the candidate’s past or present work experience. They also aim to assess how the candidate thinks strategically about financial issues and how they apply their knowledge and skills in different situations.

Once you have prepared your interview questions, you are ready to conduct the interview with the candidate.

3. Conducting the CFO Interview

The first thing to consider is the interview environment. The interviewer needs to ensure that the interview takes place in a quiet and comfortable setting that minimizes distractions and interruptions. They also need to ensure that they have all the necessary equipment and materials ready for the interview, such as a laptop, a projector, a microphone, a pen, paper, etc.

The second thing to consider is the interview format. You need to decide whether you want to conduct a one-on-one interview or a panel interview with multiple interviewers. You also need to decide whether you want to use a behavioral-based interview or a case-based interview. A behavioral-based interview focuses on asking the candidate to describe their past actions and behaviors in specific situations. A case-based interview focuses on presenting the candidate with a hypothetical or real-life scenario and asking them to analyze and solve it.

The third thing to consider is the interview evaluation. You need to have a clear and consistent criterion for rating the candidate’s responses and performance. You also need to have a system for recording and documenting your observations and feedback. You can use a scoring sheet, a checklist, or a note-taking app to help you with this task.

The fourth thing to consider is the interview engagement. You need to establish a rapport with the candidate and make them feel comfortable and confident during the interview. You can use open-ended questions, probing questions, or follow-up questions to stimulate the conversation and elicit more information from the candidate.

4. Assessing Cultural Fit

To assess cultural fit, you need to ask questions that can reveal the candidate’s personality, preferences, motivations, and expectations. You also need to observe the candidate’s behavior, attitude, and communication style during the interview. Here are some examples of cultural fit questions that you can use or adapt for your own purposes:

  • What are some of the values that guide your professional and personal life? How do they match or differ from our company’s values?
  • How do you define success in your role as a CFO? What are some of the goals that you have set for yourself or your team? How do they align with our company’s goals?
  • How do you balance your work and life commitments? How do you cope with stress or pressure? How do you manage your time and energy?
  • How do you approach learning and development in your role as a CFO? What are some of the skills or competencies that you want to improve or acquire? How do you seek feedback or guidance from others?
  • How do you adapt to change or uncertainty in your role as a CFO? What are some of the changes or challenges that you have faced or anticipate facing in your career? How did you or would you handle them?
  • How do you collaborate with others in your role as a CFO? What are some of the qualities that you look for in your colleagues or partners? How do you deal with conflicts or disagreements?
  • How do you lead others in your role as a CFO? What are some of the leadership styles or practices that you use or admire? How do you motivate or inspire others?

These questions are designed to explore the candidate’s fit with your organization’s culture and leadership team. They also aim to assess how the candidate would perform and behave in different situations that may arise in your organization.

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5. Reference Checks

To conduct reference checks, you need to ask the candidate to provide you with at least three references who can vouch for their work performance and character. These references should be people who have worked closely with the candidate in their previous or current roles, such as board members, peers, subordinates, clients, or financial partners.

Here are some examples of reference check questions that you can use or adapt for your own purposes:

  • How long have you known or worked with the candidate? What was your relationship with them?
  • How would you describe the candidate’s financial expertise and knowledge? What are some of the financial projects or initiatives that they led or contributed to?
  • How would you rate the candidate’s strategic thinking and vision? How did they approach financial planning and decision-making?
  • How would you evaluate the candidate’s problem-solving skills and creativity? How did they handle financial challenges or risks?
  • How would you assess the candidate’s leadership skills and style? How did they communicate, collaborate, and influence others?
  • How would you describe the candidate’s personality and attitude? How did they fit into your organization’s culture and values?

When conducting reference checks, it's essential to maintain a respectful and professional demeanor while also upholding strict confidentiality and privacy. Only initiate contact with the references once you have secured explicit permission from the candidate.

Concluding Thoughts: Streamlining Your CFO Search

In this article, we've guided you through the crucial steps of mastering the CFO interview—an indispensable process for organizations seeking top-tier financial leaders. We've explored interview preparation, strategic question crafting, the interview itself, cultural fit assessment, and reference checks. By following these steps, you can ensure a well-prepared and comprehensive CFO interview that will lead you to the ideal candidate for your company.

If you're looking to save time and effort while gaining access to a pool of highly qualified and experienced CFO candidates, consider partnering with a specialized technology headhunting agency.

JB Hired stands as the foremost technology headhunting and recruitment agency. Our team of experts is poised to assist you in identifying and securing top CFO talent for your organization. With a proven track record of successful placements across various industries, we're well-equipped to meet your needs.

Whether you seek a CFO to drive digital transformation, optimize financial performance, or propel your organization to new heights, we can facilitate your search. If you're interested in partnering with JB Hired, please reach out below—we eagerly anticipate your contact.