How To Land Your First Finance Director Role

Michael Mesrie
10 April 2018

Through the whole of your career, your first Finance Director role is likely to be the hardest one you will ever try to secure.

You think you have all the skills needed to be a Finance Director, so why are you not landing the job?  

If you’re looking to make the step up to your first FD role you will be aware that there will be a huge number of existing FDs who might apply for the same role who not only have the skills but also the proven experience of holding an FD position. On paper at least, most of these candidates will likely look like a safer option than someone who is, at this stage, an unproven Finance Director.

So what does it take to get that first Finance Director role?

There are two key stages.

Stage 1 – Skills Assessment

You need to be sure that you have equipped yourself with the right skills. You are probably a serving Financial Controller or Head of Finance and need to ask yourself whether in your current role you are using or developing any of the skills required to become an FD.  For an overview of what the skills are, see our last Blog piece

Carry out a critical self-review of your strengths and weaknesses in the context of the required skills. Having identified gaps in your skill sets, proactively seek out projects that will give you exposure to the areas you need to develop.

At this point, it is all about planning; take control of which talents you develop.


Stage 2 – Get on the Shortlist – Build your Network!

There is a “chicken and egg” situation in applying for your first Finance Director role. Until you have “Finance Director” on your CV the market will not regard you as a Finance Director (seems obvious enough). If the market doesn’t regard you as a Finance Director because your CV doesn’t say that you are one, then how do you change that when most companies choose to recruit experienced FDs?

While internal progression is often easier to achieve than an external appointment, if such an opportunity does not present itself then this is what you must do…

It’s all about building your network. Your network of contacts will be absolutely crucial to your future career prospects. You can have all of the pre-requisite skills but without a good network you will find it harder to get onto shortlists for FD roles.

It tends to be the case that FD roles are scattered thinly and randomly across the market and many of the roles do not get advertised but come about through under-the-radar headhunting and networks.

It’s essential that you develop a broad-based network, including head hunters/recruiters, professional advisers (auditors, lawyers, corporate financiers, restructuring specialists), bankers, Private Equity professionals and others. Make sure that you are visible on LinkedIn with a well-written, succinct profile.

Any member of your network may be the one to introduce you to a new role. You need to have a plan to actively keep in touch with members of your network on a regular (but not too regular) basis. Build and nurture those relationships. At a more senior level people who get on successfully appreciate that “meeting up for a coffee” is mutually beneficial and a key part of career management.

Although it’s a very competitive market, be tenacious. Remember that, although many candidates will apply for each Finance Director role, relatively few of them will have what any particular role specifically requires. One good word from a member of your network can make the difference between you getting the job and someone else.

It’s often a good idea to build your experience in a particular business environment, such as Private Equity-backed businesses or listed PLCs.

As you can see, much of this is quite obvious but very few candidates realise just how important it is to build their network to help them on their way to their first  “number one” role, and to continue to nurture that network thereafter.

With the knowledge of the skills required AND the tactical awareness of how to improve your chances of getting on a shortlist, you are now well equipped to make that step up.

Finance Director CFO FD Career planning Private Equity PLC Financial Controller Head of Finance

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