Guest Column | June 18, 2018

Why You Need To Stop Using Job Descriptions When Hiring Executives

By Kristen McAlister, Cerius Interim Executive Solutions

I was recently speaking with a new client who was somewhat annoyed I wanted to speak further about the position she was filling, even after she had sent us the job description. The organization was a technology software company that had experienced incredible growth over the past year, was having a difficult time finding the right CFO, and was speaking to us about an interim CFO while figuring out what to do next.

After about fifteen minutes of conversation, I learned the company was looking at transitioning its accounting system within the next year. It also has had a lot of turnover in the accounting department, so most employees have been there less than two years. Finally, it was April and the company had filed an extension on taxes because the team led by the Controller had not closed out the prior year’s books yet.

None of this information was on the job description.

When Hiring, Tear Up The Job Description

Every single bullet point on my client’s CFO job description was a task or responsibility any CFO can reasonably perform. Nowhere did the job description mention the organization’s current challenges nor any plans for the upcoming year. Instead, a focus on the static, unchanging job description of a CFO’s day-to-day activities was obscuring the dynamic challenges that would face a new CFO right out of the gate.

Hiring is a forward-facing activity, not backward-facing. Job descriptions tend to be like the kitchen junk drawer — they accumulate all the activities, gaps, tasks, and responsibilities that currently don’t have a home in an organization or that need a responsible owner.

A CFO job description with a list of requirements that includes items such as the following is the equivalent of saying you want to buy a car that has an engine.

  • must be able to read financial reports
  • great leadership skills
  • participates in company strategy

Turn these around to more actionable results for each. Think about why you have each item on the list. For example:

  • Financial reportsOther than reading, does the executive need to have experience creating the reports, establishing the KPIs, identifying the gaps and areas for improvement, analyzing for margin improvement? The more specific, the better.
  • LeadershipBe specific. Must have managed a team of at least 10 inside and outside sales reps. Must have established assessment and training programs. Must have created succession planning for the organization. Why does your company need “great leadership skills” and what, exactly, do those look like in your specific company?
  • StrategyThis is the wild card every CEO wants in his/her executive team. The hidden danger is getting someone who is great with strategy but not so much with execution. What part of strategic planning and implementation is most important to your company?

So, what’s a better guiding document for hiring the right fit? The strategic plan.

Particularly at the executive level, the strategic plan offers a much better blueprint for what is needed in your future hire than most other resources available. Using a Vice President of Sales is one of my favorite examples. When hiring for a role like this, a job description is going to list items such as:

  • manage the sales team
  • set sales goals
  • meet and achieve sales objectives

On the other hand, a strategic plan is going to be more of a guidepost for who you should be hiring. There are likely a number of sales initiatives (beyond “increase sales”). The strategic plan will focus more on how the company plans to accomplish these. Is the company focusing on a new product category, a new geography, or new client size such as Fortune 500 companies? Your new VP of Sales should have experience specific to the initiatives outlined in the strategic plan.

During the interview process, the right candidate will be able to expand on these initiatives and add to the strategy as well. The clearer you are regarding what you want a new hire to accomplish, the more focused the search process will be.

Hire for accomplishments in past roles that map to the road your company is about to go down. The right executive is the one who can help the company achieve its vision, mission, and goals. If a candidate’s background and values are not in alignment with those, then no matter how great a rolodex or mirror-image the resume is to your job description, you are likely to be disappointed.

When working with a search firm, be up front. Share what has happened and what is going on. If you are hiring the third CFO in the past five years, discuss it. Share the company’s strategic initiatives for the next couple of years. If you rely on nothing more than a job description, your recruiting efforts will default to using your company profile (industry, revenues/number of employees, ownership type, etc.) to profile the candidates — and the fit won’t be what you want (or need) to create serious results.

About The Author

Kristen McAlister is co-owner/president of Cerius Interim Executive Solutions, leader in delivering interim executive management solutions with the innovation and speed that businesses need to tackle their business opportunities or to mitigate risk.