Understanding executive search in the finance function: A look at hiring for financial leaders

Read on to learn more about executive recruitment in the finance function and how a dependable staffing partner can streamline the process.

An organization's C-suite and executive-level finance positions are key components of long-term business success. So, how are companies filling open finance roles efficiently and effectively?

We're taking a closer look at executive search firms and their role in organizations planning their finance and accounting leadership — along with how a dependable staffing partner can streamline the process and support the best results.

Taking a look at executive search in the finance function

An executive search provides businesses with a confidential, dedicated resource to identify and hire talent across their C-suite. These experts have specialties in particular areas, and, in this case, they're in search of qualified finance professionals.

What's the difference between general recruitment agencies and executive search firms?

A recruiting firm is well-suited to find talent for a broad and diverse range of open roles across the corporate ladder. Within this type of recruitment, the same recruiter trying to fill an accounting role might also be working toward finding the right candidate for an IT position. On the other hand, executive recruiting in the finance function involves a specialized recruiter seeking out high-level talent under the finance and accounting umbrella.

When is it a good idea to work with an executive search firm over a general recruiting firm?

Let's say, for example, an organization's financial controller left abruptly. This is a high-level role that most companies can't function without, making it essential to find the right executive talent as quickly as possible. While finding exceptional candidates will inevitably take time, an executive recruiter often has the expertise and networks within their niche needed to expedite the process — while ensuring the same high-quality result. This underlines the value an executive search firm's network can provide to an organization.

Executive-level searches also typically require a level of discretion and confidentiality that general recruiting does not. Executive recruiters are well-versed in working with referral networks and other soft recruiting tools to identify top candidates. On the other hand, a general recruiting firm may heavily rely on job postings and other direct recruitment methods that may not serve well during a C-suite search.

What are some of the finance roles that an executive search might try to fill?

Some of the finance positions that are appropriate for an executive search include:

  • Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
  • Chief Accounting Officer (CAO)
  • Vice President (VP) of Finance
  • Manager of Accounting and Financial Reporting
  • Head of Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A)
  • Vice President (VP) of Internal Audit
  • Director of Treasury
  • Senior Finance Manager

FAQs to consider

How has executive search in the finance function evolved?

When it comes to the evolution of executive search in the finance function, the core purpose and relationship-focused nature of the process haven't changed. A successful search necessitates having conversations and building strong relationships to place a candidate successfully. However, today, there are also a host of valuable tools, databases, staffing partners and other resources to support an improved process and well-suited candidate placement.

Why does an executive search generally last longer and involve increased touchpoints?

Because executive recruitment is designed to place a highly qualified candidate in an executive-level position, it's critical to find the right person. An executive hire has consequences for every department, and sets the course for the organization going forward. Companies are looking for a specific skill set and an executive recruiter must have frequent and consistent conversations with applicants to identify the right one.

Throughout these discussions, recruiters and clients should have regular touchpoints to streamline the process. Some of the questions clients may be curious to know include:

  • Who are the applicants in question?
  • Are you (the recruiter) getting pushback from candidates? If so, why?
  • Do the applicants have preconceived notions about our business?
  • Are the candidates familiar with us?
  • What trends are you seeing in the market?

What should an executive recruiter keep in mind while specializing in the finance function?

While the CFO is typically the highest-ranking finance officer in an organization, every finance and accounting position underneath them is equally as important. The right recruiting firm understands how vital strong financial leadership is at every level of a company and constantly prioritizes finding a qualified candidate who would be the right leader for the organization and position.

Hot-button issues and other notable challenges to take into account

Here's a closer look at the hot-button issues and trends that are impacting the financial services industry to keep an eye on:

  • A generational gap of talent: Workplace shifts in the financial services industry are occurring due to baby-boomer retirements. Organizations will have to fill open positions with the next generation of accounting professionals who have different values, needs and expectations than their predecessors.
  • A decline in accounting graduates: The Wall Street Journal reported a 17% decline in accountants and auditors in 2022, with an insufficient number of college graduates in the field to fill the gaps. This is leading to frequent talent shortages in the industry, which is making candidate acquisition and retention vital in an increasingly competitive market.
  • Remote transitions: More and more companies are taking on remote workers. This gives organizations access to a wider talent pool, but it also means companies all over the world can compete for the best talent.
  • Inflation: Rising inflation is bound to impact every industry and the finance and accounting fields are no exception. This leads to slower hiring and production, increased layoffs and stagnant or even waning demand.

Top challenges for a recruiter trying to fill an executive finance role

  • Talent shortages: Businesses today have a misconception that massive layoffs or employee resignations mean they can easily find great talent on demand, but this isn't the case. It's important to remember that a news headline does not invariably represent the greater market, and oftentimes mass layoffs in one sector may have little or no effect on others. In fact, upheaval in one field may bolster the negotiating position of others. Additionally, available candidates might not have the narrow skill set needed to fill a position effectively, and multiple companies might be hiring for the same applicant profile — adding a layer of competition to an already complex labor market.
  • Gauging applicant interest: Organizations and recruiters can run into candidates who are a suitable fit for an open role but already have a job, which can make it difficult to gauge a candidate's intent. This makes it critical for a recruiter to understand an applicant's motives and goals, which are most effectively revealed through consistent communication. Once again, this highlights the importance of fostering open conversations and building strong relationships throughout the recruitment process.

Starting the right search process with the right search firm

When your company needs to fill executive-level finance and accounting positions — quickly and effectively — you need a partner that has the network and resources to support a streamlined process, and Beacon Hill can help.

At Beacon Hill, we provide a seasoned executive search team that will be able to identify individuals who can uphold and accelerate the values of your organization. And, with an extensive network in the financial services industry, we offer an accurate and full-bodied perspective on the talent that's on the market.

Learn more about our practical, expert and timely accounting and financial expertise, or contact us to get started.

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