Plot Your Steps On the CFO Career Path to the C-Suite

Career Path to CFO

Would you like to follow the CFO career path all the way to the C-suite? 

Perhaps you’re looking for the latest industry trends and resources to help move your career in the direction you want to go, or you've held several finance jobs and want to do some career assessment. You may wonder whether your professional experience meets the standard career path for leading the financial operations of a company.

Take a look at a typical day — Up at 5 a.m.: What It's Really Like to Be a CFO.

Here are seven steps on the CFO career path to acquire the skills you’ll need:

1. Gain broad financial experience

To be the CFO, you'll need a firm grasp of the fundamentals of budgeting, analysis, compliance, risk management and other accounting principals.

As a CFO, your job will be to ensure that the CEO and board's decisions are financially sound, both in regard to resources available and regulatory compliance. Having solid financial experience makes you more apt to make these judgments. Sometimes, especially at small companies, the same person serves as chief executive officer and chief financial officer, making this financial expertise even more crucial.

2. Expand your business and operational experience

Gaining a deep understanding of the business is critical on the CFO career path. You'll regularly meet with the board and collaborate with managers as a CFO. For this reason, you need a broader understanding of the business and operational sides of a company.

3. Widen your customer service experience

Not only as CFO will you be responsible to the board regarding the financial status of a company, but you'll also speak with investors. You'll serve as a conduit between what they want to see from the company and the board. These communications will be frequent, as investors are key stakeholders of the business.

4. Broaden your understanding of technology

With more number-crunching in the cloud, Software as a Service and other innovations permeating the finance industry, part of the CFO career path is understanding the benefits and risks associated with technology.

5. Earn a CPA or MBA

Although CFOs come from various backgrounds, certain certifications and advanced degrees tend to make transitioning into the position easier. CPA licenses are often the most suited for the role given their wide-reaching skills they represent, including forensic accounting and compliance knowledge. A masters in business administration is often useful in conjunction with the CPA. Earning an MBA is helpful for increasing your business and operational understanding.

Read All You Need to Know About the CPA — and Then Some.

6. Consider controller and treasury positions

Like certifications, certain job titles have been held previously by today's CFOs. In particular, many served in controller or treasury functions. These positions can increase your experience with funding and strategy execution, both of which are essential for CFO duties.

7. Prepare to take on expanded roles

The influence of CFOs within their organizations continues to expand. In a Robert Half survey, 85 percent of CFOs interviewed said that over the past three years, their roles have expanded outside of traditional accounting and finance, with human resources and information technology the most commonly cited areas.

Ultimately, consider that 57 percent of CFOs are satisfied in their role and don't plan to change careers. Between new roles and continuing education, it may take years to get there, but many who have taken the CFO career path feel it's worth the journey in the end.


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Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2014 and was updated recently to reflect current information.

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