What you need to know before interviewing with a CFO

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Scheduling your job interview for first thing in the morning may help you get hired, a survey of CFOs suggests.

Sixty-one per cent of the finance leaders polled regard the 9-to-11am slot as the most productive time for interviews.

Eleven per cent of CFOs prefer to meet candidates before 9am, and another 11% opt for between 11am and 1pm. Afternoon interviews proved less popular, with just 16% of CFOs conducting hiring interviews after 1pm.

Only 2% chose to meet after 5pm, according to the survey of 2,200 US-based CFOs commissioned by recruitment agency Accountemps.

“Midmorning is an ideal time for a job interview because it gives the interviewer time to set daily priorities and settle into his or her day before the meeting,” Bill Driscoll, district president for Accountemps, said in a news release.

John Mahtani, ACMA, CGMA, CFO of film-processing laboratory Cinelab London, said that by 11am, urgent emails have been dealt with and he can give candidates his undivided attention. He is willing to accommodate candidates who are unable to get away from their current workplace during the day with a 6pm appointment.

However, Driscoll advised candidates to “avoid scheduling an interview late in the afternoon when fatigue sets in. Late afternoon is also the time when interviewers may start shifting their focus to personal priorities.”

Taking time off work for the interview whenever possible is the best option. Not only will you be able to catch your interviewer at their preferred time, but the lack of other distractions and demands helps candidates relax and make the best impression.

Make the most of the first 15 minutes

Getting off to an assured start is vital. Sixty per cent of CFOs polled said they formed an opinion of candidates within the first 15 minutes of an interview. Just 6% take longer than 30 minutes to build their impression.

How long does it take you to form either a positive or negative opinion of a candidate during an initial interview?

 

 Less than five minutes  4%
 Five minutes  16%
 Six to 10 minutes  23%
 11 to 15 minutes  17%
 16 to 20 minutes  14%
 21 to 30 minutes  15%
 More than 30 minutes  6%
 Don't know/no answer  5%


For Mahtani, it takes just 45 seconds to form an initial impression of a candidate, which is then fleshed out in the course of the conversation.

 

To make the most of that time, and the best impression, make sure you have done the groundwork. That means not only researching your interviewer and the company and planning your route to the interview, but also preparing and practising your answer to one of the most common opening questions in recruitment: “Tell me about yourself.”

This is your opportunity to provide a brief summary of your experience and objectives, advised Driscoll.

4 ways to impress your interviewer

Here’s what Mahtani is looking for when he interviews finance candidates:

1. Ability to express yourself: “I like to employ commercially driven accountants who can articulate the numbers and the proposition,” Mahtani said. Someone who simply hands over a spreadsheet will not add value to the business. The successful candidate will need analytical skills and a persuasive manner to convey their opinion or recommendation based on the data they have gathered.

2. Engagement: Conveying interest in the opportunity is essential because a pay cheque only works as a motivator in the short term. “If the person is engaged from day one, they are more likely to be successful both within the organisation and in their career more broadly,” Mahtani said. Your level of interest in the role, the company, and its activities and the research you have done will be apparent in the answers you give in the interview.

3. Innovation: “The most important thing that I look for in the interview process is what has the candidate achieved?” Mahtani said. “What have they been involved in, and can they translate the significance of that?” If a candidate can demonstrate that they are innovative and have sought ways to put improvements in place, they mark themselves out as someone who will add value to the business.

Mahtani remembers an example he gave to win over the finance director of Warner Bros. during an interview in 1995. He described a simulation model he had created in a previous role that used data about a particular film – such as its stars, genre, and performance at the theatrical box office – to forecast what kind of figures that same title might achieve in the video market.

“It was something the finance director hadn’t thought about,” he said. “But within moments of me telling him about it, he could see it was a wonderful idea.” Mahtani got the job and spent the next 19 years at Warner Bros.

4. Follow up: “I always like candidates who call up a couple of days later to say, ‘Did you have any thoughts or feedback?’ ” Mahtani said. “Most people don’t do that, so when the first person does, you can see that they are very keen.”

This article originally appeared in CGMA Magazine "What you need to know before interviewing with a CFO"

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