The Finance Director is a critical position in running the wider business as well as running the Finance function. The Finance function champions improving commercial performance and manages the cash within the business, plus a lot more. The Finance Director is a vital voice at the management table, with a unique skill set amongst the senior team.
If you haven’t done the job before, the Managing Director or board will need to take a risk on hiring you. You have to convince them that you can do the job and demonstrate a track record of successfully covering the main aspects of the role.
Most recruiters, internal or external, have a risk adverse approach. It is simply easier to sell into a hiring manager or client a person who has already done a given role.
Creating a defined career plan gives purpose to the career moves that you choose. A plan is likely to get you to the Finance Director position faster as it ensures you cover a wider range of roles over a shorter period of time.
Positioning yourself to break out of the standard categories to add breadth to your career can be hard with both internal and external job applications. E.g. a person who has done years of commercial finance/business partnering roles may find it harder to take on a Group Financial Controller role or vice versa. Both roles are very different and require different skill sets.
Once you have covered enough of the key responsibilities of a Finance Director through roles you have undertaken, you need to clearly communicate these skills & experiences throughout the recruitment process (CVs, Interviews, tests). Think about your achievements as much as your tasks/projects to communicate the depth and quality to your skills and experiences. Positioning yourself as someone who has done the Finance Director role in practice, although not in name, reduces the employment risk attached to you.
So where to start in planning your career?
What exactly is your goal?
Is it just a Finance Director position or a Finance Director position in X sized company in Y sector? Is the Finance Director position a stepping stone on to being Managing Director or something else? Are the business ownership structure and cultural implications important to you: publicly listed, privately owned, private equity backed? What stage in the business life cycle are your targeting: start-up, growth, maturity, decline? What size of business: SME, mid-cap, corporate?
There are a vast array of options available. Starting with a goal in mind will allow you to narrow down the options and give you a starting point to plan your career.
Start with understanding what the Finance Director role you want needs to be able to do. Consider both the technical areas and all the non-technical skills the role will need. List out the knowledge, experience and skills required in the target role and then compare that to where you are now. Where are the gaps and what can you do to fill them?
Some examples of the skills covered by core finance roles:
For example, you could take a traditional central finance role covering reporting and compliance, cash management, transactional accounting, process & controls design and possibly system work and through this gain a thorough understanding of the nuts & bolts of the traditional finance function.
The more commercial / business partnering roles require you to develop strong people skills, analytical skills, communication skills and form & communicate opinions based on your modelling and analytical work. You need to understand the business in depth, operationally as well as financially: how does the sales engine work; what the key financial drivers are. These types of roles give you good general business knowledge.
System accountant roles are more specialised, looking at ERP/finance systems and the processes that sit around the system and how both work together. This is an increasingly important area as so many businesses are automating more of their processes with the increasing availability of technology.
There remains a long list of other specialised roles, all with their different merits & skills.
“Soft skills” are sometimes forgotten in the world of profit, cash, processes and risk.
Hannah Leyro Diaz, Director of Finance and Operations ¹
At every stage of your career you will be dealing with people. How well you deal with them will be a huge factor in your career advancement. How many bosses promote a person that doesn’t know how to get on with others?
The more senior you become, the more you undertake your work through others, the more likely you are to manage and lead teams, the more political challenges you will need to navigate, the more diversity of relationships you are likely to have.
Some of the people skills you are likely to employ as a Finance Director:
Don’t ever stop working on your people skills – they are even more vital for your continued success in a Finance Director role.
There are many different variations of Finance Director role. The roles sit within a huge variety of different businesses, with different cultures, values and outlooks.
To help you succeed in your first Finance Director role, choosing a role that fits with your key values, style of working and interests is as important as one that suits your strengths, skills and attributes. There is always temptation to take the first Finance Director opportunity you get offered.
James Davenport, COO of innocent Drinks ²
You will have had some experience in terms of which business cultures and types of people work best for you from previous jobs. Think carefully about what you liked and didn’t like in this area. What characteristics or experiences might indicate that the culture is suited to you? Make sure you find out about them through the research and interview processes.
During or after the interview / selection process, try to meet as many people as possible. Do your research on the company and culture. Accept the offer from the business, culture and situation best suited to you.
Have confidence in your skills and your hard work to date, believe in your end plan and don’t be afraid to aim high.
Landing a Finance Director role is not the end of your career path but the start of your next journey.
Enhance provides coaching and mentoring for aspiring Finance Directors. If you are looking to get your first Finance Director role and would like dedicated support to achieve this, call us on 0203 500 6300 or contact us here.
Aspiring Finance Director Series