If you’re a CFO candidate, how many times have you seen a job specification and only casually glanced at it? I had a CFO candidate tell me just the other day that he had no reason to read the spec, because, as he said: “I already know very well what a CFO does.” I’ll admit as a writer of detailed position specifications, it’s easy to give less attention to the finer details, but that’s a mistake.

Being focused on one discipline as I am in the CFO role, it would be possible to become complacent and not dig into the nuances of the specifics in each client situation. But it’s critical to not fall into that trap! The round peg-round hole does not apply to executive search, and the spec should carefully represent the uniqueness of each client we represent. Yes, there may be some similarities in CFO roles at different organizations, but experience has taught me that focusing on the subtle differences in each client situation is what enables us to find an exceptional match—vs. finding an also-ran.

Making the deep dive

The specification is a product of the deep dive into the company we are representing that reflects hours of diligence to understand the specifics of our client’s situation. Here’s an example that illustrates the benefit of this approach. My firm Arnold Partners was recently hired by a CEO to perform a CFO search following a meeting that was 99% about Arnold Partners—our approach, successes and past clients. As he was leaving for vacation he asked us to meet with his entire executive team. After an in-depth conversation with just the first person we realized that they didn’t need a CFO given their stage of development. We cancelled the rest of the meetings, no spec was needed, at least not for now.

We incorporate into the spec the unique qualities of the company and the strengths and weaknesses of the CEO so we can target the CFO who will bring complimentary skills and style. The spec is created in a way that can’t be duplicated robotically, and sets the tone for the partnership between company and search consultant, and the value that will be created with the right hire. Gaining an understanding of an IT’s company’s core technology and what makes the company tick is not a trivial undertaking, and we expect a few back and forths until we nail it.

Enticing the candidate to action

A spec should entice the candidate by sparking an interest in the specific opportunity or an idea for action. The goal is to have a prospective candidate think, “Wow, this was written for me!” or “This is not exactly right for me, but I know Joe would love to hear about this opportunity.”

I have said to clients in the past: “the spec goes out the window after the first meeting.” There’s some truth to that, but only because so much thought was put into the spec in the first place. The spec serves as a guidepost and may need fine-tuning after some interviews meetings take place, as “nice to haves” become “must haves” or vis versa. The spec can be a dynamic tool over the course of the search. The spec is worth obsessing over, and at Arnold Partners, we do. Clients should take a serious view of the creation process and CFO candidates should mind the details.

What’s your experience with specs? I’d like to hear your thoughts or have the opportunity to help create one that creates extraordinary value for your company. Email me at dave@arnoldpartners.com.