Zoom Teams and other online tools speed up the search for new CFOs

From Wsj.com: Hiring for finance chiefs and other executive jobs slowed significantly in March when millions of employees began working from home. Now, recruiters are closing executive searches again as companies and candidates get more comfortable with recruiting through video and phone calls.

A combination of easy-to-use technology and a lack of business travel may be an advantage in some cases. Cathy Logue, who leads the CFO practice at executive recruitment firm Stanton Chase, said a recent search took less than three months, start to finish.

“We were actually able to identify and secure the candidate in a shorter time frame than a process under normal circumstances,” Ms. Logue said, declining to give details about the company or people involved. “If you had asked me in January if this was possible I would have said, ‘Absolutely not,’ in no uncertain terms.”

When Chandler Bigelow began interviewing for a CFO role in April, his interviews were conducted solely through video meetings and phone calls. “It all happened with me sitting at home,” said the former CFO of media company Tribune Co.

By May, he was in final talks with Nielsen Global Connect, a part of the U.S. research company Nielsen Holdings PLC that will be spun off into a separate company next year.

Sometimes, executives and candidates also have dinner together via Zoom meetings, or share a drink, to help get to know each other before a job offer is made. Still, many companies are trying to meet their favored candidate in person at least once before closing a virtual search.

In Mr. Bigelow’s case, David Rawlinson, the chief executive of Nielsen Global Connect, decided in late May he wanted a personal meeting.

“I will admit that, in the end, it felt a bit odd to hire a CFO who I had never met,” Mr. Rawlinson said. “So we met at my house and talked briefly through masks, properly distanced in the backyard.”

Mr. Bigelow began his new gig on June 1.

Recruiting remotely has advantages from a cost perspective, as it omits flights, hotel bookings and other hospitality expenses. “There are many ways where the virtual recruitment is more efficient than what we did before,” said Jacqueline Welch, chief human resources officer and chief diversity officer at mortgage-finance giant Freddie Mac.

In recent weeks, Freddie Mac hired a new CFO—Christian M. Lown, who started in the role Monday—and has also onboarded 250 new employees remotely since March 13, when company employees began working from home.

Getting to know a candidate through video chat can be tough because it’s harder to pick up on social cues than in in-person meetings, recruiters say. That makes reference and background checks even more important during this period, said Barry Toren, leader of the North American financial officers practice at Korn|Ferry International.

Tien Tzuo, the chief executive of Zuora Inc., an enterprise software company based in Redwood City, Calif., also recruited his new finance chief through virtual means.

“When everybody is at home and everyone is accessible via Zoom, you can actually get hold of people faster,” Mr. Tzuo said.

Still, Mr. Tzuo didn’t want to rely on virtual interactions only. So he invited his favorite candidate, Todd McElhatton, until Monday the finance chief of one of SAP SE’s businesses, to his home for a socially distant dinner.

“Being able to see each other eye to eye but at a distance, that closed it,” said Mr. McElhatton.

Mr. McElhatton said the process was smoother than previous applications he has been through, which he said would take up to three months to complete. Just arranging meeting with hiring managers and others would take weeks, he said.

In contrast, the recruitment process for his current job lasted just five weeks.

Mr. McElhatton starts his new job as Zuora’s CFO later this month, and received a $50,000 sign-on bonus, the company said.

Recruiters at Russell Reynolds Associates said candidates have been hesitant to switch jobs during the downturn, which is why more companies sometimes have to offer additional guarantees, for example severance protection or sign-on bonuses.

Making a career move at such an uncertain time can also pose nonfinancial challenges for executives changing jobs and the companies that hire them. For new hires, clicking with an entire team of people with little or no face-to-face contact can be tough. New hires could have a hard time getting familiar and comfortable with the values, ethics and standards of a new company remotely, said Ms. Welch at Freddie Mac. “It can cost you in an nonmonetary way, in terms of culture,” she said.

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