So how’s the job market for chief financial officers these days?

All things being equal, it’s still fairly strong, say two executive recruiters. But unlike the irrational exuberance that pervaded late 1999 and early 2000, CFO job candidates can no longer count on gold-plated option packages leading them to El Dorado.

Despite the 178-point gain in the Nasdaq Composite on Tuesday, the overall weak performance in the tech stock sector has lingered long enough to tilt compensation packages toward larger salaries and away from options. So many New Economy stocks have been so trashed that the whole option story has lost its appeal.

“They’re looking at total compensation, not just equity,” says J. Rucker McCarty, partner in charge of the CFO practice for the executive recruitment firm Heidrick & Struggles. In fact, whereas a year ago, a chief financial officer would accept a job offer with a pay cut if it meant getting a basket of options, job changers will no longer entertain offers that don’t at least match their current base salary.

Essentially, options may be a way to sweeten an already attractive offer, but they are no longer the cornerstone the rest of the package is built upon.

Despite that, the job market for CFOs is still strong, even in the tech sector. McCarty estimates that in California alone, at least 250 firms are currently looking for chief financial officers.

Unfortunately, for those CFOs still at tech firms, the picture is far gloomier than it was a year ago. Not only are their options underwater, but their current jobs don’t have the appeal they once did.

Gordie Grand, managing director of the global financial officers practice for the headhunting firm, Russell Reynolds, said he’s talked recently to several CFOs who describe themselves as discouraged.

Many of them work at firms that are running out of cash, but with the weak stock market, it’s become impossible to raise funding through stock offerings. Too many of these firms are also saddled with weak balance sheets and can’t borrow, and for those that aren’t public, the venture capitalists are not nearly as free with the cash as they used to be.

But Grand says there’s something healthy about this phenomenon, too. “A lot of the wheat has been cleaned from the chaff.” The Internet companies that survive this trend will be healthier for it.

In addition, CFOs from successful Internet companies are being actively recruited.

But some of the firms seeking new CFOs are a bit unrealistic, says McCarty.

“A lot of companies are saying we want people with CFO experience,” McCarty explains. “Sometimes we have to manage expectations.” His point is that among the large contingent of corporate treasurers and vice presidents of finance is a group of executives ready to step up to a CFO’s job.

Prospective employers looking for CFOs also have to jump an extra hurdle or two, and candidates for the positions can well afford to turn down offers that don’t pass muster, McCarty says. Not only do job offers have to include healthy bumps in salaries and bonuses, but companies have to persuade their next CFO that their firm will not be the next dot-com flameout. Otherwise, the candidate for the job won’t accept the offer.

Says McCarty: “They’re looking a lot harder at the business proposition and the management team.”

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