The best candidates have curiosity to seek new solutions, resourcefulness to make use of business data and the ability to sustain mutually rewarding relationships.

CFOs have historically been numbers people, not necessarily people people. But having the wrong people on your team affects your ability to find, analyze and report on those numbers. Identifying and empowering finance talent is an essential skill for any CFO talent management strategy, if you are committed to elevating performance in your organization. And the more strategically you envision your role, the more important it is to attract and retain great talent.

Beyond the basics, such as integrity, trustworthiness and technical experience, what should CFOs look for when evaluating talent and developing a talent management strategy? In my own hiring practice and now as Managing Director of Strategic Finance at LLR, I focus on curiosity, data savvy and people skills as the key (and often underrated) qualities that every CFO needs to prioritize.



It is at the top of my list for every role, but curiosity is especially important for finance. People who are intellectually curious challenge the status quo, question what they see and constantly look for new and better ways to get the job done. This is important because finance needs to actively interrogate the business, seek out missing information and put data together in new ways that can be used to improve operations.

How to spot it.

Look for candidates who ask questions during the interview—questions about the company as well as the role. This will tell you two things—that they’re interested and engaged and that they’re not afraid to speak up and ask for what they need. I like to ask candidates to tell me about a problem they solved in a previous role, or describe a creative approach they took that may have taken them outside their normal routine.

How to support it.

While CFO, I had my team come up with 50 new ideas each quarter as a way of stretching their creativity and bringing an open, curious mindset to their work. While many of those ideas were unusable, there were always a few that were amazing, and they changed the way we operated for the better.  The point was ultimately to get them to loosen up, think differently and contribute beyond what they ever imagined their role to be.

People who are intellectually curious challenge the status quo, question what they see and constantly look for new and better ways to get the job done.

Data savvy

More than ever, finance is a data-driven discipline, and the data is richer and more widely spread throughout the organization.

Today’s finance professionals need to be able to venture beyond traditional, finance-centric platforms and be fearless about mining data in any format or from location it may reside. What was per-customer revenue two years ago? How many customer cases are closed within 24 hours? How did product defects trend over the last five releases? Wherever the data lives, they need to know how to dig it out and use it. A CRM, a QA testing platform or inventory software can all hold pieces of the revenue puzzle.

How to spot it.

In interviews, ask candidates about their experience working with data. Where do they go to collect it? What types of data do they consider to be important to finance? Can they tell you about a time when they needed to synthesize data from different sources to solve a problem or gain insight?

How to support it.

Set the tone for your team with your own approach to the data. As CFO, I was relentless about getting the information I needed to do my job, and I encouraged my people to be equally tenacious in approaching people in other business functions to find the data they needed.

People skills

Previously, I have written about CFOs needing to become change agents within the organization, and part of that process involves making the transition from ‘gatekeeper’ to ‘facilitator.’ The CFO needs to be able to walk the halls, gather intel and build relationships across every business function.

The same is true of everyone on your team. They need to have the social skills to start the conversation as well as the service mentality that asks, “How can I help this person?” Being able to converse and collaborate with people in other departments is central to the task of collecting the information needed to become more strategic and deliver more value.

How to spot it.

Look for enthusiasm and open-mindedness during the interview process. I knew of an interviewer who used to ask, “If you were to bake a cake, what cake would you choose?” The choice of red velvet or devil’s food doesn’t matter, but their willingness to be a good sport and answer the question does. It’s also helpful to ask about a time when the candidate had to work alongside someone they disliked or had a conflict with. The ability to overcome differences and find common ground is key.

How to support it.

Create opportunities for your team to interact with other business units. I used to host regular meet-and-greets where my team could talk to people from other areas of the business, such as sales, marketing, product and support. Look for ways to help your team understand how the company functions as a whole and see how finance fits into the bigger picture.

They need to have the social skills to start the conversation as well as the service mentality that asks, “How can I help this person?”

Here’s the bottom line.

Finance as a discipline and the role of the CFO are changing, and so are the skills you need on your team. A highly functioning finance team needs to go beyond typical accounting competencies and be capable of supporting growth and enhancing performance across all customer-facing activities. Look for candidates with the curiosity to seek out new solutions, the resourcefulness to find and make use of business data, and the ability to sustain mutually rewarding relationships across the organization.


LLR Partners believes in sharing the wealth of experience and expertise within our portfolio companies, network and teams in order to inspire and help accelerate growth for a wider community of business leaders. We hope you find these GrowthBits helpful and share them with your network. Send us the topics you’d like to learn more about any time.