How to Land Your First CFO Role – Lisa Rangel

This interview is taken from an episode of the Spend Culture Stories podcast. In this episode, Lisa Rangel, executive resume writer at Chameleon Resumes, job search expert and executive recruiter extraordinaire shares the secrets behind a well-written resume for a CFO role, as well as key considerations to ace your interview as a new CFO. 

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How to Land Your First CFO Role

Executive Recruiter Extraordinaire | Entrepreneur | Professional Executive Resume Writer

In this episode, Lisa Rangel, executive resume writer, job search expert and executive recruiter extraordinaire shares the secrets behind a well-written resume for a C-level finance hire, as well as key considerations to ace your interview as a new CFO

Lisa Rangel & the Chameleon Resumes team is the only Executive Resume Writing, LinkedIn Profile Development & Job Search Coaching consultancy firm hired by LinkedIn and recognized by Forbes as a Top 100 Career Website. Their unique team of experienced corporate and search firm recruiters has over 80 years of combined recruiting experience, and has been quoted in prominent media outlets and extensively endorsed by current practicing recruiters. With their combined decades of recruiting and HR expertise, they’ve helped thousands of people get the 6-figure position they’re seeking — FASTER.

Special co-host of the day Matt Lim, Vancouver-based market research expert is also featured in this episode.

Speakers: Lisa Rangel, Founder, Chameleon Resumes

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Transcription and Notable Quotes

About Lisa’s Entrance to The Magical World of Executive Resumé Writing

Lisa Rangel: [00:00:58] Now, right, it’s a fun story to tell. I’ve been in business since June 2009 doing executive resumé writing and job landing consultancy work. But prior to that, I was a recruiter in the finance world for 13 years roughly. And I was writing, when I was a recruiter, I was tweaking and writing resumes of my candidates that I was sending to my client companies. I quickly learned that the resume was at least a catalyst to my candidate getting an interview at the client company which, you know, when they got hired is how I got paid. I learned pretty quickly that resumes were an important part of the process in me essentially making a living. So, that’s essentially how I learned how to do them.

And then in roughly the early part of 2009, I found myself laid off after the financial crash in 2008. So many people at that time were out of work and needing help. I loved recruiting but I was a little burnt out at that time so I just started writing resumes for people. I called it my productive unemployment for a little while. And people needed the help. They weren’t sure how to write them, how to position themselves, how to speak to what the employer needed.

There was obviously a lot of competition at that time. It just took off and I decided in 2011 that I would make it a serious business. And it’s grown blessedly quite a bit since then. So, I do everything from a recruiter’s perspective. Everyone on my team is a former recruiter, either search firm or corporate recruiting, or both. And we do everything from recruiting prospective.

Pretend You’re Fired Today

Matt Lim: [00:03:25] Lisa, I noticed that you actually have a podcast called Pretend You’re Fired Today and one of the things you advocate is being proactive and doing achievement writing each week. That’s one of the things that we stand for as well at Procurify. We’re trying to get companies to adopt proactive Spend Cultures. I was wondering, what are some of the things that you tell the executives that you’re training about being proactive?

Lisa Rangel: [00:03:49] The inspiration for that podcast, I did it for a year and it came from specific experience. I had a colleague who found herself fired. She and her management didn’t see eye to eye and it just kind of took her knees out from under her. Awhile later, my boss was also let go. When my friend came to her senses and got her legs back under her, she said to me, “You know what, you can’t think you’re immune from this.”

And I had been with my company at that time for nine years and she’s like, “you have to pretend you’re fired today.”

Start making lists

Lisa Rangel: [00:05:25] Start making lists of people that you haven’t spoken to in a while. Start making lists of companies that you would love to work for but never really thought of how you would get in and you don’t have a direct connection. How are you going to get in there in the first place? Start listing achievement stories that you’ve done, telling them about what you’ve done in the last two, three years or prior positions.

You just start having that information cataloged and ready. So, if you are unexpectedly let go or on the positive end some amazing opportunity just sort of falls in your lap, you’re not scrambling to get all this stuff done and in the case if you’re let go while you don’t have access to it anymore. So, the pretend you’re fired today notion of being ready can really be for positive situations as well and not only negative situations. It’s about being ready for opportunity as well as calamity.

Be Proactive

Matt Lim: [00:06:24] Lisa, that’s such a great outlook on how people should approach their work. I think that sometimes it’s very difficult for people to find the time to be proactive. What are some things that you do with your clients to help them highlight some of these achievements while they’re still working? Or do most of the clients that you work with, are they already looking for a job?

Lisa Rangel: [00:06:48] You know it’s a mix. We have some people that are proactive. Probably about 30 percent of the people that hire us are employed and being proactive. They’re not actively looking for a job but they want to just be ready and maybe put some feelers out but it’s more about serving the marketplace and not necessarily about leaving. You know, probably like a middle 40ish percent are people who are working and actively looking for a job.

You know either they know an end is coming or they didn’t get taken on in the merger and acquisition phase, they were given a package. And then there are individuals that have been laid off or let go and they find themselves struggling and so they come to us needing help. So, it’s a little bit of all of that.

Ways to be Proactive in Your Professional Career

But everyone should be proactive. Some ways that we tell them to be proactive are, you know, if you tell people to keep a folder whether it’s in a personal email account, I wouldn’t do it on a work email account because again you don’t have access to it, it’s not going to help. Just email yourself stories. Email yourselves notes. They don’t have to be these fully worked out resumé bullets or diatribes of stories or what now but just the mental notes of things. And then you’ll have it dated and you know and you can just go in a folder.

Lisa Rangel: [00:08:12] Just email yourself and have a go in a folder, a personal folder and then at least you have it listed. I mean some people suggest a notebook. Some people keep a running document on their desktop or on their phone and just make notes as they go. I mean, if you do use a note function on your phone, I would be leery if you do get a new phone or you may lose the notes, so just make sure that it’s someplace that if you change your phone or update, upgrade software on a desktop, that you’re not going to lose what you used to have. Just a precautionary tale I will tell you.

But the key is to set reminders on a calendar, on a reminder function on your phone, like you know every two weeks to just like update something. So, you should do it as you go as things happen but at least put in a monthly or biweekly or you know at the longest I’d say a quarterly reminder to go start updating stuff and keeping it. Try not to keep it where it’s more than three months old at any given point.

Reflect on the things you’ve done

Nicole: [00:09:16] I think that’s a really good point to make. I know that even when I’m asked about things that I’ve done or most people when they’re asked about things, it’s kind of hard to come up with that on the spot or recall all the things that you’ve done especially when we’re working in fast-paced environments. So, I think that’s such a good point to make. Whether you’re looking for a job or not, just to be able to reflect on the things that you’re doing.

Lisa Rangel: [00:09:37] We had someone over the weekend. A friend of a friend who was referred to me and that person was tapped to apply to a promotion within their organization. And while in that situation, the person’s reputation is preceding them because it’s their own organization that they worked at.

But I can tell you, the resume didn’t really fit a part of that promotion. And so if it was a competitive situation and the timing wasn’t going to work out. The point is, like even if it’s an internal promotion by not having it ready, it’s going to be hard to sometimes position yourself to be packaged in the right way. It’s just a matter of being ready.

Now, you’re never going to be perfectly ready all the time but the key is, it shouldn’t be that you haven’t looked at your resume in two and a half years. It should be in an updated format. You know that’s not from the career centre, the college career centre. So, just things like that. We just want to always make sure that it’s not just modern language, modern and updated achievements but a contemporary layout.

The difference in Qualifications of a CFO versus Financial Controller

Nicole: [00:12:20] Definitely. You kind of touched on even for people that are just starting out in their careers which is a majority of our audience. So, can you maybe tell us a little bit more about the difference between the qualifications of a CFO versus a financial controller from your experience?

Lisa Rangel: [00:12:39] Absolutely. So, from a technical definition standpoint, a CFO is really someone that is synthesizing financial information given to them by the accountants, the analysts, the reporting individuals within the finance area, and coming up with the financial vision and coming up with the strategy and coming up with how is the financial function within the organization going to be structured to help other departments reach their goals. And those other departments, they need to help the finance department reach their goal. So it’s really more of a financial visionary.

The controller is the person that really has the keys to the accounting house essentially. They’re doing the books and the budgeting and the reporting and it’s really the CPA work. To be a controller, you should be a CPA in most cases. There’s always exceptions to the rule but for the most part you really should be a CPA.

You don’t necessarily need to be a CPA to be a CFO. In recent years, last say five, 10 years, more CFOs are CPAs just because of the stress on sound accounting compliance from a competitive standpoint but it’s not as required, it’s not as needed in a financial, in a CFO role. So, that’s really the difference. One is more on the technical accounting and the other is really more on the financial vision and strategy.

How to Get Your First CFO Role

Nicole: [00:14:19] That’s really interesting. Are there some ways that someone who’s never been a CFO can show companies that they’re ready to take on this role?

Lisa Rangel: [00:14:30] It’s really looking at not just the technical expertise. It’s really about people management. Can you procure the right talent to work within the organization? How do you mobilize and motivate that talent? Are you of the caliber of a leader that is going to attract the right talent? Financial now is so much to do with technology, fintech, and so you really need to be one on one with the CIO. You need to have an understanding of that area as well and how it affects finance and how finance affects technology.

So, it’s showing that you can interface with other departments that you can lead people. You still need to garner the respect of the people who are going to do the financial legwork that you’re managing. So, that’s really how you can start to position yourself as somebody who’s ready for the next step. Embody those three areas in terms of liaising with other departments, procuring talent as well as being able to manage the experts that you’re going to be hiring underneath you.

Successful Ways in Joining a Team of Established People as a New Finance Leader

Matt Lim: [00:17:16] Oftentimes, when you’re being hired as a CFO and we see quite a lot of interim CFOs or controllers who end up using Procurify, they had to leave the teams and that they’re moving into the team that’s already established. What are some of the ways that you’ve seen success for a new leader joining a team of established people?

Lisa Rangel: [00:17:37] As simplistic as this may sound, I think they have to demonstrate that they listen. The key is, I think, to do a sound assessment and make sure people feel heard. Even if they’re not in agreement with you, people will respect your work if they know that you have at least taken the time to listen and synthesize. Even if you disagree, they’ve maybe taken the time to connect the dots.

First and foremost, account comes down to listening and then I think there’s the credentials that you have to make the difficult decisions and communicate rationally. Sometimes it’s prudent to keep things confidential. But where and when it’s permissible and prudent to put rationale behind decisions that people understand, and then that also shows that you’re training people as to how to make sound decisions and then develop, eventually they’ll do the same thing.

If they see how you think and learn how you’re doing it, they’ll be able to in some cases replicate it or at least start to present you solutions that are in the way that you think that you can make better decisions. So, I think it’s like involving them and listening to them and having examples of that and showing that right from the beginning.

Showing the Leadership Your Skills on a Resume

Matt Lim: [00:20:14] That’s a lot of the points that you’re making about what makes a good CFO or actually any leader are the soft skills. And I’m on the receiving end as well as Nicole on so many resumes. It’s very difficult to actually be able to differentiate between applicants. Are there ways that you advocate, like you can show the leadership skills that you might have on a resume even when you don’t have the opportunity to explain it face to face?

Lisa Rangel: [00:20:42] I think if you can quantify and describe situations and sometimes you can’t quantify but I’d say in most cases you can always describe. Have you’ve promoted somebody, how many people do you train, whether it’s officially or unofficially, how many mentees have you had in a given time period. How you have trained others and what they have gone on to do? Clients who have been able to retain, maybe you’ve structured things financially with clients. Maybe it’s still profitable for the organization and it’s still financially digestible for the client to stick around and as a result, you kept X amount in revenue to the organization.

Task-driven vs outcome-driven

When people write their resume on their own, they typically write them in a task-driven manner. It almost looks like a job description with their name on it. For each of those bullets, ask yourself how do you know you did a good job doing that task? And what did that good job look like? Tell me how you know you did a good job at doing that task. There lies your achievement. In finance, it’s sometimes easier to come up with a quantifiable achievement because it’s essentially a number. Identify and explain how you:

  • Made money
  • Saved money
  • Streamlined the process
  • Saved labor
  • Mitigated risk
  • Contributed to a company culture

Maybe you joined committees. I wouldn’t say that you just join the committee. I would say that you are a part of that committee. So, those are some of the areas that you can craft bullets for. Do this with soft skills as well. For example:

  • How many people in your department?
  • Did you train many of them?
  • Were they promoted into new roles over the last year or during your tenure with the company?
  • What’s your retention rate in your department?

Obviously, it shows if you have a good retention rate. People sticking around implies you’re a good manager.

The future of marketing and tech

Matt Lim: [00:23:34] I mean, I work in marketing and over the last 10 years, the marketing tech stock has just exploded. How do you think that’s going to affect the tech stock for finance is going to evolve over the years?

Lisa Rangel: [00:23:47] I left recruiting almost 10 years ago and it was exploding in the midst of my six, seven-year mark. It has been and it’s just, I’d say it’s less explosive now and more merged. Financial and technology are almost like symbiotic sometimes and you know marketing and technology are, too. I just think they become more integrated and you to be in finance, you need to know how to work certain tools or show the ability that you can get ramped up on certain tools.

You’re never going to know every tool and if you’re going from a large company to a small company or vice versa, I mean there’s different tools that are better with enterprise versus small business. You need to demonstrate that you can pick up tools and that you have that ability to do so and that you can navigate among systems and that you can take the information from these different systems and make better decisions. That’s really what it comes down to.

On Consistent Learning as an Executive

Matt Lim: [00:25:22] I’ve listened to some of your podcasts and it’s clear to me that you’re consistently learning. Are there any blogs or books that you would recommend for aspiring finance professionals or even just for career development?

Lisa Rangel: [00:25:36] From a technical side, there’s probably, if you look at some of the, and it depends on what type of finance obviously that you’re in, I would say different trade publications based on the industry that you’re in, if you want to have a little bit of an edge as a CFO being up to speed on accounting, concepts and regulations can help you bridge that and have the respect of your accounting brethren.

As a finance professional, that can be helpful. And it can make, I think it can be a different for a CFO because there’s a lot of individuals that go into finance. There’s not a lot of individuals that go into accounting and the CFOs that have expertise in accounting and I don’t necessarily mean as a CPA but I just mean that even simply as knowledge can find themselves in an envious position because they know how to speak essentially both languages and they can interface between both groups and they have the respect of both groups.

Recommended Blogs or Books for Aspiring Finance Professionals or for Career Development

Depending on the type of business, you know payments and ease of making, ease of payments for especially B2C businesses is huge, so different, there’s tons of blogs, like payment source and other blogs on the mobile payment industry from a higher level finance.

[00:26:58] I love reading things from the consulting firms, like Deloitte, IBM. They each have their own professional differentiating type of blog, you know one for tech, one for finance, one for marketing. So, you’re getting the consulting end of consulting perspective. There’s blogs on fintech summary and other blogs on just financial technology. So, I would say whatever your passion is, it’s hard to have your hand in all this stuff. Whatever your passion is, sign up for like one or two of those and then just once a quarter. You just sort of spend a half a day researching other areas that are maybe not as intuitive or not as passionate for you, just so you’re still aware of what’s going on.

But pick an area that you really find yourself passionate about and become very well-versed in it and then know where to tap for resources and information on the others to come across that you’re knowledgeable and in a lot of different areas. It’s impossible to know all different areas. But it’s about excellent research.

Key to Becoming a Successful Financial Leader

Matt Lim: [00:28:34] So, there’s so much, it’s so hard to break through the noise. Obviously as a marketer, that’s something that we face all the time. And if there’s one message that you could get in front of finance leaders, what would that be?

Don’t ignore the non-financial aspects

Lisa Rangel: [00:28:50] Specifically for finance leaders and aspiring finance leaders is, don’t ignore the non-financial aspects of your job. You know it’s easy to amass knowledge of your technical area, in this case, finance, but as you start to rise through the ranks and you start to become more of a manager, a director, executive level, those that truly succeed aren’t necessarily the ones that know most about finance.

The ones that typically succeed are the ones that are very good at the other aspects, the other non-financial aspects of their job, and that’s liaising with other departments, looking at the corporate goals as a whole and how the finance fits into supporting those goals, managing people, attracting talent, so I think that’s the key in terms of being a successful financial leader.

Expect non-technical roles higher up

You can be a senior financial practitioner, right? If you want to be more of an expert practitioner, you can still be the tax manager, right? But if you’re still a practitioner then it’s likely balances the non-financial and the financial expertise.

But I think as you start to rise through the ranks, it almost becomes a little skewed. It’s more weighted on the non-technical aspects of the job. And that’s where you start to be successful in terms of managing the experts and being of the caliber that attracts the experts. That’s the type of person you want to be as you start to go up through the ranks.

There’s a lot more than just accounting

Nicole: [00:30:44] I think that’s such a good point to make and I know when I’ve spoken with different CFOs and financial leaders, something that comes up quite often is, it’s the things that they’ve learned and developed beyond their field of expertise and it’s not just about being an accounting whiz. There’s a lot of other things that come with it and I think you made a good point on the difference between kind of being an expert in accounting versus being a leader or someone that can mentor other people.

Lisa Rangel: [00:31:08] Well, I mean it happens to a lot of people in every different level, every different profession. It happened to me in recruiting.

It’s more about how you get more recruiters, how you find managers, and how you structure the fee structure. Before you know it, I was like, I’m not recruiting anymore and I actually still like doing that. So, you know that’s it. That happens to a marketer, that happens to a finance person, that happens to an H.R. person, that happens to every function within a company.

Once you start coming up through the ranks, you’re not doing what you initially did. And if you truly love doing the finance aspect of it, then position yourself more as a technologist, a practitioner. You still need to do the people skills. That kind of thing but it’s going to be a lot different than if you’re going for the C suite. And one is not better than the other, right?

Advice for Anyone who is Going to Look Over their Resumes

Nicole: [00:32:41] I think that’s such a good point to make and great for people that keep in mind that all levels of their kind of career journey. I know Matt and I will look over our resumes and make changes. But is there one piece of advice that you’d like to leave with our audience?

Lisa Rangel: [00:33:07] If you don’t have a goal in mind or a specific job that you’re catering towards, I think the key is to just write down the things that the situations that you felt good about. If you’re unsure, you know without setting off red flags. Ask colleagues if you have a great relationship with your boss, what they’re proud of you that you’ve done.

Know what your colleagues come to you for. Nobody has a job out of charity. Clearly they keep you in that job because you’re doing something right. So, what are some of those things that you do right? You don’t want to say you’re the best at something because that’s superlative. You want to be specific in terms of, I know it’s more of a finance podcast but if it’s marketing. And usually that therein lies the answer of it being a result-driven or an accomplishment-driven bullet.

Nicole: [00:34:45] Yes. I think that’s a piece of great advice. It’s definitely something that everyone who’s listening can take away from regardless of their expertise.

How to Make the Move to C-Suite

Lisa Rangel: [00:34:55] And if you do have a goal, like say you do want to be the controller, you’re currently an accounting manager or if you do eventually want to be on the C level, the C Suite, CFO suite, you start to do, look at the achievements that demonstrate the job you want. Ever since I started, I’ve always said to just do the job that you want now. So, you can’t say that you want a job but not begin doing it prior to promotion.

When people see you have the components, it doesn’t mean you won’t get trained or mentored. But you’ve got to show the raw skills. You’ve got to show the achievements. You’ve got to show the component that’s going to make an executive want to invest more in you. I’m a big believer in doing the job you want and positioning yourself to get it. And that’s how you should write the document.

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