As a CFO hiring is part of the job description. But hand on heart, is there any CFO who can honestly say that they have never made any hiring mistakes?
Some studies show that interview assessment scores actually have little correlation with the candidate’s performance after on-boarding.
Some superstars can disappoint, while others who “fill headcount” end up being your right-hand man (or woman).
So what can we do to improve your interview techniques?
I looked to Dr. Allen Huffcutt from Bradley University (USA), an expert on psychology whose main field of research is the employee interview. Below is what I believe may be relevant to finance and accounting recruitment in the current climate:
1. Stop asking “why should I hire you?” or “what are your strengths?”
This is a very interesting proposal. Huffcutt’s logic is that staple questions such as these do not reflect a candidate’s true personality or ability, because you will only get a well-rehearsed answer. At best, it is an indication of how seriously the person prepared for the interview.
Although this in turn might convey the level of the candidate’s motivation, we must also concede there is so much more that needs to be assessed when making a hiring decision.
2. Let test results speak for themselves instead.
Instead of using precious interview time listening to candidates' (often fortified) versions of their own strengths, Huffcutt recommends conducting written or verbal tests to assess knowledge and skills.
Fortunately, accounting is a field where this can be done fairly easily. It can be a home-made test to be taken with a calculator or Excel; or there are plenty of aptitude tests available online (some for free, if your budget is limited).
Nowadays, more and more firms are employing psychometric tests, but few CFOs are conducting aptitude tests. But as we all know, numerical ability and communication / presentation skills can be two very different things, and finance is a field where the former most certainly counts.
3. Prepare behavioural / situational questions.
However, given the growing demand for finance to “partner with the business”, soft skills are also increasing in importance when it comes to introducing new interview techniques. Behavioural questions and situational questions can be very effective to this end.
In a finance interview for example, one might ask:
- “Can you tell me about a time where you were under strong pressure to meet a deadline?”
- “Imagine your team, and your colleague who is least competent. Why do you think so? How do you deal with him/her?”
- “The P&L shows the sales revenue to be XX yen. Historic growth shows a YY% decline. Your Sales Director submitted a sales target which is 20% more than your current sales revenue. He is a very aggressive character and does not like other people telling him what to do. How would you respond?”
- “The ERP has crashed and you have lost some important data regarding cost. The monthly closing deadline is tomorrow, and you cannot expect IT to fix this problem before then. How would you deal with the situation?”
4. Prepare a structured interview.
The final important point is to create a solid template, and use the same format for all candidates (at least for the same position). HR should be able to help you with this.
The general tendency is to go off on tangents when you “click” with someone, but wrap up early when you don’t. This does not give for a comprehensive analysis or a fair comparison.
Although gut instinct can help in the hiring process, the aim of an interview should be to eliminate your bias and gather information. Your gut can wait until you make the final judgement call.
As Huffcutt says, scientific research on employee interviews and actual business practice are like “two ships that pass in the night”, so seldom do they cross paths.
Too many of us rely on routine, common sense, and intuition for hiring decisions. These are all important factors, but maybe it is time to inject a little bit of science into this art!
In the last few weeks we've flipped the coin and interviewed CFOs to find out what it takes be successful in their roles:
Interview with David Wright, Advice & Insurance CFO and Appointed Actuary at CBA
Interview with Bodie ter Kuile at Macquarie International Infrastructure Fund
Interview with CFO Andy Sampson at Taurus Fund Management