Job Hunting

Notes from a Job Search: Starting Up

A CFO on the job hunt offers first-hand advice from his own experience.
Gary StarrMay 26, 2010

Finance executives have access to plenty of generic job-search advice, but peer-to-peer counsel remains invaluable. With so many people caught between jobs these days, CFO asked Gary Starr, a CPA and MBA who most recently headed finance at a professional-service firm, to write about his current experience looking for a new position. In the first installment of a series, Starr explores one of the most basic but important aspects of the search: getting the right start.

After 25 years of continuous work, and a track record of promotions in accounting and finance positions, many at Fortune 500 companies, I became an unemployment statistic late last year.

At the time, I was the CFO of a midmarket, $70 million professional-service firm. We were owned by a private-equity firm where investment horizons tend to be short, so after four successful years, I helped sell the company to a strategic public buyer that did not need additional corporate personnel.

I knew at the outset of the transaction that I was putting myself out of a job, but hoped that the experience would make me a more well-rounded and attractive executive. With previous experience managing a $750 million P&L, I was fairly confident in my ability to find another position. As it turns out, I was partially wrong; there are some folks who view unemployment as a stigma no matter what the circumstances.

That was one of many lessons I learned as I started my job search. A key one was this: searching for a position is a full-time job and should be approached with the same organization and zeal that one brings to his or her everyday job.

Everything you are about to do is driving toward one goal: building your own brand. By building your brand, you are creating an identity and getting noticed by key people in the market.

Obviously, updating your résumé is the first step. But it is very important to filter the résumé through a number of different people: executive recruiters, HR directors, industry experts, and seasoned corporate executives. Sort through their feedback and pull out all the consensus comments while also choosing others that make sense. You should always be refining your résumé based on feedback you receive during the search. Mine has improved tremendously from inception, and I have many people to thank for that.

Second, you should build a very robust LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn has become the site of choice for recruiters and professionals. I was admonished by a corporate executive (and serial networker) for the lack of substance in my profile. As soon as I rebuilt it and improved the specialties section, the hits to my profile increased 10-fold. I was astonished. That type of traffic is essential for any search.

Before you start searching, you need to invest in a networking-software system, or a CRM tool, along the lines of what salespeople use to manage clients and leads. Keeping track of people, appointments, and “to-dos” will be difficult without the proper tools. I made the critical mistake of trying to manage this on my own. While I won’t recommend a specific software package, I highly advise any active searcher to do some homework and invest in something worthwhile and long term. Networking does not end after you find your next position.

Finally, you need to build two lists: one that includes all your networking targets and one that includes your company targets. Many experts say you should further divide your networking contacts into three lists, starting with your first-tier contacts, then your second-tier contacts, and so on. I don’t dispute this logic, but I have found that networking success will come from the unlikeliest of places. I have had many disappointments with my first-tier contacts and have wound up with job interviews through third-tier contacts.

Targeting companies is also very important. After you make a list of companies you want to work for, target people in those companies through LinkedIn or through your other networks. If you stay in touch with those people, you may eventually find a position in a company of your choice.

The bottom line: starting and organizing yourself properly on the front end will save you countless hours on the back end. — Edited by Alix Stuart