When the latter part of the process comes around, it’s best to tailor your approach to the candidate in question (no-one likes stock interview questions!). Nonetheless, here are a few starter questions that’ll give the most vital information about the candidate.
Tell me about a time when you constructed a financial model for a new business model
What you’re looking for here is a thought process. How did they construct the model? Who did they speak with? What experience did they lean on? What business models did they analyse? What were the variables? How did they handle the stakeholder interviews to get a sense of where this would go and why? You’re looking for someone who can really hold their own, who is commercially savvy, who is thorough, detail-oriented and has the courage of their convictions.
Give me an example of a difficult investment process and your role in improving things
Have they seen a difficult investment process? Can they hold their nerve? Did they bring solutions to the table? How did they keep a cool head during this time?
Tell me about a valuable lesson you learned from this fundraising process
Do they take ownership of their role? Do they focus on the prep and the planning which is a critical role for a CFO – making sure the due diligence is in place before a process begins so you’re not chasing your tail? Conversely, do they focus their answers on the role that other people play during and after the process?
How would you describe the finance department’s role within a business?
This tells you how they see their particular department. Are they fairly insular (which can be fine, depending on your organisation)? Do they want more commercial involvement? There isn’t a right or wrong answer here but you need to understand holistically where they see finance’s value, and whether your organisation is right for that.
If you were hiring a finance team from scratch today for a [rough revenue range of your business] turnover [your sector] business, what would that look like?
How much of that budget are they taking for finance? How efficient are they with headcount? Are they utilising junior people which is managerially heavy but could be useful in the future? Will they use flexible and part-time employment? How are they thinking about the business evolving and where these people should be based? Most importantly – are they drawing on their past experience to speak with authority and being humble where there are gaps.
Tell me about a period of fast growth within an organisation where you were CFO and how finance supported this process
A great CFO knows they are a business partner to accelerate the growth of a business. Did they and their team spot inefficiencies? Did they have candid conversations with the CEO? You’ll get a sense as to whether or not their previous CEO saw them as a trusted advisor.
Who would you ask to provide a reference for you?
Observe who they leave out and then ask them why (you can validate and cross-check this information later). Remember it’s not a bad thing if a CFO is a little cagey about their poor relationship with a previous company or CEO, as it suggests a degree of discretion.
By exploring all these points you’ll have a much clearer picture of the experience, skills and work style of the candidate. And you’ll be one step closer to a life with less time spent on due diligence and payroll (apologies!).
If you’ve got more questions about how to bring in your next finance expert, don’t hesitate to take a look at our Founder’s Handbook on Hiring a Part-time CFO.