10 career tips for ambitious CFOs

Curiosity, personal growth, embracing technology… CFOs aiming for the top have a lot on their plate. Below you can read 10 top tips from an acknowledged expert on CFOs.

Who do you need to be, what do you need to know and what do you have to do to reach the upper echelons of the finance world? This is a topic that has always fascinated author and international expert on the role of the CFO Sally Percy. In her book Reach the Top in Finance: The Ambitious Accountant’s Guide to Career Success she gives the reader some useful tips on career development.

International audit and consultancy firm EY has picked out the following ten tips as the most important:

1. Be curious
Having valuable and up-to-date market insight will allow you to make meaningful contributions to strategic discussions and important management and board meetings. Read, listen and ask as much as possible to boost your knowledge. Follow what’s happening in your own business and sector as well as developments in the sectors of your customers and suppliers.

2. Invest in your personal growth
No one gets to be CFO unless they are prepared to challenge themselves. So make a point of stepping outside your comfort zone by attending conferences on new technologies, participating in cross-functional projects and taking on non-financial roles so that you gain valuable operational experience.

3. Learn how to influence
While you are not the ultimate decision-maker, your opinions and advice carry weight with the CEO and Board of Directors. How can you influence senior executives and directors? Learn how to communicate to make yourself heard, and make sure you nurture good relationships with other opinion-formers in your organisation.

4. Be a “critical friend” to your business
Be confident about backing your CEO in public, and don’t be afraid to challenge them in private. To earn the trust of your CEO you also need to show that you understand what’s behind the accounting figures, and in particular long-term business drivers.

5. Exploit your technical expertise
Show your CEO that you have a really good grip on reporting by explaining to them what the figures really mean and how their decisions could impact future accounting figures.

6. Embrace new technology
Robots, automation, data analysis, artificial intelligence… We are surrounded by new concepts and new technology that can improve both our efficiency and technical expertise. So use these tools for your own benefit. For example, are you really sure you have full control of all your enterprise’s contracts and commitments?

7. Nurture your team
No one succeeds on their own. CFOs are expected to be outstanding leaders, so you will need to show the CEO and the board that you understand how to recruit, motivate and develop the best people.

8. Keep in touch with people who can help you, internally and externally
You may not be looking for a new job now, but it’s always worth keeping your eyes and ears open for career opportunities, including outside your organisation. Recruitment consultants can make you aware of opportunities that you may not otherwise have considered.

9. Don’t chase inflated job titles
The organisation you work for and the knowledge and experience you gain there are much more important than a jumped-up job title. Use the first ten years of your career wisely to build up a broad experience base that will set you up for the future.

10. Network, network, network
When was the last time you had lunch with a former colleague? How often do you attend industry conferences and events? While the nine tips above will undoubtedly help your long-term career development, getting out and meeting people in different arenas will help you even more. At the risk of stating the obvious, the more visible you are, the more likely you are to be seen.

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