Cowen Partners | National Executive Search + Consulting

  • Call us: 360-947-2804
  • Mail US : mailto:contact@cowenpartners.com

CFO Interview Questions

Functional Experience

Competency Area: Strategy 
Ask Questions About:

  • Key strategic initiatives candidate has worked on
  • How/whether candidate has simplified a process within an organization
  • How candidate has solved a finance/accounting-related problem

Ready to Hire a Qualified CFO? Contact Us

What to Look for in Candidate Answers:

  • Appropriate examples of key strategic projects, details about candidate’s role in those projects
  • Evidence that candidate can streamline processes, help organizations be more efficient
  • Evidence that candidate has a strategic perspective on problem-solving (rather than just a technical perspective)

Competency Area: Partnership with Senior Leadership
Ask Questions About:

  • Candidate’s relationships with leadership of prior employer organizations
  • Example when candidate problem-solved in collaboration with senior leadership
  • Candidate’s greatest professional contribution to an employer

What to Look for in Candidate Answers:

  • How candidate relates to senior leaders, ability to act as partner
  • Clarity in how candidate collaborates with senior leadership in problem-solving
  • “We” rather than “I” language in description of greatest contribution

Competency Area: Financial and Operational Management
Ask Questions About:

  • Candidate’s experience working in a cash-constrained environment
  • The areas of financial and operational management that candidate is most and least comfortable and experienced with
  • Candidate’s technical expertise with overseeing or configuring financial systems

What to Look for in Candidate Answers:

  • Evidence that candidate can work in often cash-constrained nonprofit environment
  • Checklist assessment of what financial and operational management skills candidate does and doesn’t possess
  • Whether candidate knows how to configure or can knowledgeably oversee financial systems

Competency Area: Finance/Technical Abilities
Ask Questions About:

  • The toughest finance project candidate has worked on (cash flow, cost containment, budgeting, cost allocation, other)
  • Candidate’s approach to working with accounts receivable (A/R) and accounts payable (A/P)

What to Look for in Candidate Answers:

  • An appropriately “tough” example and clear articulation of how candidate’s finance knowledge helped solve the problem
  • Technical knowledge of A/R and A/P

Competency Area: Leadership
Ask Questions About:

  • Candidate’s relationships and management style with peer colleagues and direct reports
  • Example when candidate problem-solved in collaboration with peer colleagues and direct reports
  • Candidate’s approach to recruiting, hiring, coaching finance team members

What to Look for in Candidate Answers:

  • Candidate’s comfort level with decision-making process within organization
  • Positive problem-solving skills, collaborative approach to working with peer colleagues and direct reports
  • Fit with organization’s approach to recruiting, hiring, coaching

Competency Area: General Breadth of Experience
Ask Questions About:

  • Shortcomings in candidate’s experience compared to job description
  • Candidate’s career progression

What to Look for in Candidate Answers:

  • Qualifications that may not have come out in resume and cover letter; also candidate’s humility, self-awareness of gaps, and ability to recognize opportunities for growth
  • Logical progression, no unexplained gaps

Personal Qualities

Competency Area: Drive for Excellence
Ask Questions About: 

  • How candidate deals with high expectations and time pressure

What to Look for in Candidate Answers 

  • Ability to prioritize and a commitment to excellence despite pressure

Competency Area: Collaborative and Interpersonal Skills
Ask Questions About:

  • Candidate’s ideal decision-making environment
  • Candidate’s ideal relationship with boss, colleagues, and direct report(s)
  • Example of an instance in which candidate faced interpersonal conflict

What to Look for in Candidate Answers:

  • Fit between candidate’s ideal decision-making environment and that of organization
  • Fit between candidate’s ideal relationship structures and existing personalities/styles
  • Positive approaches to interpersonal conflict

Competency Area: Commitment to Vision & Mission
Ask Questions About:

  • Why candidate is passionate about organization’s mission

What to Look for in Candidate Answers:

  • Clearly articulated passion for and understanding of specific mission of organization

Competency Area: Core Values
Ask Questions About:

  • Candidate’s experience with an unethical action or situation and how s/he handled it

What to Look for in Candidate Answers:

  • Clarity about what is and isn’t ethical behavior, courage to speak and act appropriately

Cowen Partners has a strong record of identifying and recruiting Chief Financial Officers for public, private and non-profit organizations. Contact us if you would like to discuss recruiting an exceptional CFO for your organization.