Recruiters – Get Out of the Box


EVERY DAY I am reading articles that talk about how the role of X (pick any professional job – CFO, CIO, CPO, financial analyst, category manager, etc.) is changing and how difficult it is to find people with the right skills to play those roles.  I’ve also seen numerous surveys that point out that the missing link is NOT functional competencies (accounting, finance, purchasing, strategic sourcing, information technology, etc.) it is, in fact, strategic competencies (problem solving, change leadership, business acumen, collaboration, communication).  Yet, job postings and recruiters have NOT gotten it.

Go to any on-line recruiting site and find a job posting for the titles noted above.  They always start with either basic qualifications (education, years of functional experience, industry experience, etc.)  or job responsibilities (a list, sometimes exhaustive, of what the job entails).  It is actually hard to distinguish one posting from another.  They often sprinkle in things like strong communication skills, ability to work in a team environment, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, but they all sound like motherhood and apple pie 🙂  !  Who won’t tell you they have strong communication skills?   Then comes the resume review process of the recruiter where potential candidates must fit “in the box” – education ☑, industry experience ☑, functional experience ☑ – you probably won’t get even a glance if those boxes are not checked off.  YET we keep hearing about how employers can’t find people with the right strategic competencies.  Really?  We’re not even looking for those; they are in fact an after-thought. 

A recent McKinsey article – “Are today’s CFO’s ready for tomorrow’s demands on finance?” points out that the role of the CFO has expanded to include many, many more non-financial demands.  CFOs themselves are recognizing that they will need to strengthen their skill set (not the functional financial skills) to be able to meet those demands.  Yet, if you look at a job posting for a CFO it will start with all the usual requirements around financial reporting, budgeting & forecasting, cash flow management while the other demands like strategic leadership (that’s a big one), digitizing critical business activities and managing cyber security will show up at the bottom of the list.  Recruiters will send an inordinate amount of time asking about how you analyze a balance sheet vs. understanding your ability to provide strategic leadership to the C-Suite.  The “box” has been defined so precisely that the best candidates won’t even get a passing glance.

I was recently asked by a CPO my advice on how to find strong category management candidates that can be true strategic advisors / partners to the business.  I respectfully responded – “stop looking for a category manager”.  “Find those candidates that have worked with “customers” to solve their problems (whatever that problem is), challenged the status quo and were able to satisfy the value drivers of their customer then hire them on the spot – and teach them the category management process.”  It may sound counter-intuitive but it is not.  Find a great athlete and simply teach them the sport you want them to play – then give them the opportunity to practice, practice, practice.  It works!  I’ve done it and it works!!!  Many companies think that they can take a good buyer and turn them into a category manager or a good accountant / controller and turn them into a CFO but the role and the required skill sets are very different.  Some may be able to make the leap but many will not. 

As we are looking for our organizations to meet tomorrow’s demands, we need to reconsider our approach to recruiting.  Looking for candidates that have broader experience and the demonstrated ability to take on non-traditional demands is critical.  Frankly, if I were looking for a CFO my first question would be “tell me what you think the role of a CFO should be” and if I heard anything close to the traditional role I would know that was not the person I was looking for.  Similarly, when I was hiring category managers many years ago for my own organization, I did not hire a single purchasing person (and not a single purchasing person applied either) because I was not focused on the functional skills but the strategic ones.  Recruiters, please loosen up that “box” and open up a world of possibilities and some REALLY strong candidates.

Let us know what you think and join in the conversation . . . . . . . . . . . .. . .



  1. Jonathan Menezes on

    Anne. Thanks for this article, I couldn’t agree more. I recently moved into a new role in my own organization that is in a completely different field, but I was given the job because of strategic competencies, not functional. We realized that functional SMEs that do not have strategic and general management competencies have a hard time leading a function. Although they may have great knowledge, the department could still fall apart around them due to lack of management skills. I have also found that when looking outside, all recruitment is done by job function, which makes it very hard to move after you have reached a certain level of functional management without being a SME, unless you are looking at very senior management roles (C-level or one level down). I would welcome any information on other companies that are taking a more progressive approach with recruitment as you have outlined here.

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