Paul Shillam
Paul Shillam

Controller to CFO

Do you have the appropriate skills, strengths, and competencies to make the leap?

April 5, 2012
by Paul Shillam, CPA, CGMA

Knowing where you are going is one of the first steps in making your next career change. In public accounting, the career path is fairly clear. In industry, accountants’ career paths can be as varied as the organizations for which they work. What follows are four concepts to help you plan and make the move to CFO from where you are today.

Understand the role

What does a CFO do? One of the easiest ways to find out is to go online and search the current job listings to see what the job requirements are. Common themes include:

  • Ability to see the “big picture.” Be a visionary.
  • Ability to be a strategic partner.
  • Be a leader.
  • Have excellent communications skills.
  • Mentor employees.

After reviewing numerous job requirements, it is clear that a CFO is expected to work with numbers, use those skills to look into the future for opportunities or help develop the organization. The CFO should also be able to analyze the risks and guide the organization into the future in collaboration with the leadership team.

Understand yourself

This is the most challenging aspect of making any career change. Personality type assessment tools can be beneficial. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is one example. Personally, with the help of an independent party or mentor, I prefer a 360-degree evaluation in which a professional asks subordinates, peers, and superiors in your organization questions about you and your style.

Comments from the interviews are summarized and presented to you to help develop a perspective of how others see you. From this information, you and your coach can develop specific plans for self-improvement. This is a great tool for assessing leadership and management style.

Another extremely helpful tool is the AICPA’s Competency Self-Assessment Tool. It allows you to assess your level of competency in various technical and nontechnical skill areas. Then, with the planning tool, you can establish a way to improve in areas identified as deficient.

Have a plan

Whether moving up in your existing organization or looking outside for your next position, a plan will provide the checkpoints and focus needed to make the move. Along with the plan, have one or more people with whom you can share your adventure.

As you prepare for making a career change, recall how you achieved your successes to date. Identify achievements that were significant to others and yourself. Document these achievements: what, when, where, and how much in revenue or savings resulted, and why it was important. Identify people who know you well and can speak as references to your skills. If you are not active in associations, start now. The adage, “It’s not what you know but who you know” holds true in looking for your next position. Most leads for jobs come from someone in your network.

Personal brand

Tom Peters’ book The Brand You 50: Fifty Ways to Transform Yourself From an ‘Employee’ Into a Brand That Shouts Distinction, Commitment, and Passion! is full of helpful ideas including how to position your message to the employer market.

If you are unfamiliar with personal branding, this brief post provides a great introduction. You are more than your skills, talents, competencies, and personality. For each of us, the sum is greater than the whole of its parts.

A recent Priscilla Claman blog post in Harvard Business Review concluded, “It’s a different world. But if a world without career ladders allows you to take charge of your own career, then it’s a far better one.”

So, take charge of your career and develop the plan to move yourself forward to that next position. Life, including our work life, is to be lived and lived well.

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Paul L. Shillam, CPA, CGMA, CMA, is controller for a multispecialty physician group practice. Formerly he was a CFO, controller, independent accountant, internal auditor, and consultant to small and medium organizations. Don’t miss his keynote session at the upcoming AICPA Controllers Workshop, May 17-18 in Las Vegas.