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Halliday Marx Visions

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Setting up an effective and well-planned interview is what stands between a great hire and a poor one. When recruiting a CFO the process can be more complex, due not only to the seniority and responsibility of this position but the consequences to your organisation if you get it wrong.

It is vitally important therefore that you consider partnering with an experienced search and recruitment specialist, like Halliday Marx. We will not only ensure you are fully supported from initial role definition through to on-boarding, we will also coach you through the interview process to make certain you go beyond just qualifications and experience, gaining an accurate idea of how a candidate will align themselves with your company’s mission.

At Halliday Marx, our successful track record of placing CFOs across various industries means we appreciate that each role is a unique assignment requiring a customised interview approach. There are, however, common interview steps you can take that will help you achieve the best possible outcome:

Competency based questions

An effective CFO hire will live, breath and reinforce your company goals, values and mission statement, whilst having the industry and finance expertise to lead successfully. Other important attributes to consider include; a strategic, results focused mindset, excellent leadership and communication skills, and clear evidence of progression. As an initial step, we often recommend clients consider these elements in relation to what is required from the CFO position. You can then begin to structure and design your specific interview questions around them.

At the C-suite level, competency-based questions are the way to go. This type of questioning will help you to really understand the capabilities of potential CFOs, since they allow the candidate to base their responses around real-life examples and provide more detailed information regarding how and why they made certain decisions.

“Past behaviour is often a good indicator of future behaviour, so we encourage clients to use this questioning technique to gain an accurate insight into a potential candidate’s approach to work”, added John Marx, Co-Founder Halliday Marx.

These types of questions can also be split into three categories; behavioural, technical and soft skills.

Due to the level of accountability and responsibility required to be successful, answers to competency-based CFO questions should be much more in-depth than a less experienced finance professional. When asking questions, be sure to gain an insight into their character, especially with regards how they foster support from others and how they encourage collaboration.

To achieve this, Andy Halliday, Co-Founder Halliday Marx, recommends using carefully tailored, specific questions that are open-ended:

“Your aim should be to encourage discussion, and don’t be afraid to ask difficult or challenging questions – a strong leader needs to be able to handle the unexpected”.

Suggested questions

Asking the right competency-based interview questions is essential in enabling you to make a truly informed decision regarding your CFO hire.

To help you, we’ve listed some suggested questions that our clients have found useful in achieving successful outcomes:

Behavioural interview questions

These questions are useful in helping you to assess how a candidate handled past situations. They provide an understanding regarding how a potential CFO thinks and approaches situations and act as a good indication of how the candidate might complement your current team.

Tell me about a time:

When you had to make a decision that was unpopular with others?

When you had to deal with a difficult individual that you have had to get buy-in from?

When you were criticised by a board member; how did you manage the feedback?

Where you had to compromise on a decision that you thought was the right one?

Technical skills interview questions

These questions explore the candidate’s technical knowledge and abilities. They feature questions that are specific to the role in terms of systems and industry standards. They can tell you a great deal about how CFOs gather information to make decisions, and how they keep up to date with industry requirements and tools.

Tell me about a time:

When you increased efficiency effectively. How did you identify the problem and go about designing a solution?

When you had to explain a complex accounting/finance concept to a non-finance stakeholder?

And also:

How do you minimise the risk of errors in your work?

Tell me what you already understand about our company’s financial strategy/goals?

Soft skills interview questions

These questions are helpful in assessing a candidate’s personal traits and cognitive skills. A successful CFO must possess excellent communication skills, gain trust and buy-in from others, drive a high-performance mindset and lead with empathy.

Tell me about a time:

When you had to communicate bad news to your team

When you had to manage an employee who was not meeting their objectives

When the outcome of a project failed to meet expectations. How did you adapt to the change?

Assessing answers

Well thought-out, structured answers will incorporate a well-known technique often  referred to as STAR. This stands for:

What was the context of the situation and what led to the situation unfolding?

What was the candidate’s involvement?

How did the candidate react/respond to accomplishing the goal?

What was the result and how did the candidate’s behaviour influence the outcome?

Don’t be afraid to press for more details if you feel you need more information to accurately assess the candidate. Using the 5 Ws are useful for clarifying specifics; what, why, where, how and when.

Throughout the interview, you should keep in mind how all responses align with your company’s wider objectives. The ideal candidate does not have to be a carbon copy of your existing c-suit but they do need to appreciate the same vision and have a passion for your industry that means they will compliment your company culture.


When placing CFOs, it is essential you work with an experienced financial search specialist, like Halliday Marx. This will ensure potential talent will not only possess the correct range of technical expertise required for success, but they will also hold the right level of passion for your company’s vision and will integrate harmoniously with your existing team. An intelligent and well-structured interview will provide you with a genuine and accurate insight into the individual’s technical ability, values, personality, and leadership style.

If you need help with how to interview or source a CFO or Senior Leadership Executive, call us on 020 7096 8200, or write to us at [email protected]

For the latest recruitment information, financial opportunities, career advice and company updates, follow us on LinkedIn and twitter @HallidayMarx

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