The Messy Middle™ Case Study #1: Transformational CFO Desires to Return to For-Profit Sector


Explaining the nuances of The Messy Middleis not easy. Below is an actual case study with visuals to help further clarify and drive some of the key learning points home.

Case Study #1: Mark*--CFO/Director of Finance

Mark had advanced significantly as a finance professional over the past 10 years, with a double-promotion to a CFO-level role.

The only challenge was that the subsidiary he had been appointed to was non-profit, and after a few years into the role, he could see the handwriting on the wall---this leadership team would never transform and understand the dynamics of a for-profit entity.

Having come from a 12+-year background of working for for-profit sectors, this was growing increasingly challenging for him. He also knew that there was no place else for him to grow financially---he was at the top of the ladder at this smaller subsidiary organization---and his comp was tapped out.

Mark had been posting his existing resume and getting nowhere. Frustrated, he reached out to me.

This example clearly shines a light on the unique challenges The Messy Middle™ face. If these nuances and caveats were not addressed---Mark would not get the traction he needed.

Let's explore further.

The Messy Middle™ challenges that needed to be addressed:

TITLING ISSUES:

Mark is pursuing 2 different finance leader targets:
(1) CFO roles at a smaller company, and (2) Director of Finance-level roles at a much larger company (he has Fortune 500 experience from his earlier roles). This is a classic example of The Messy Middle™.
Why? Because if we focus his branding on the transformational, P&L, board work he's done in his most recent C-Suite level CFO role, a recruiter hunting for a "Director of Finance" will scan his resume and automatically pigeon-hole his candidacy (and they do think this way BTW):"This role is too small for him. Why would someone with a P&L be interested in this role? Also, we don't need a transformational leader either. We just need someone to come in and sharpen reporting and partner with the business---this role would be too small for him." Again, this happens all the time. That's why it is imperative to address this in the resume and branding where possible.

Alternately, when I make the resume more Director-level for a large-company target, we stripped out the P&L, board, growth strategies, and transformational work references to make this more relatable to a Director of Finance role. This is more important than you realize, but I've seen the level of assumptions that go on behind the scenes former recruiter---and this is definitely one of those nuances.

So, what is the answer?

BRANDING SOLUTION:

Have 2 different resume versions developed and targeted for the different roles, and a LinkedIn profile that encompasses his leadership ---but in a way that does not pigeon-hole him---so that he can be considered for both roles.


OTHER MESSY MIDDLE BRANDING CONCERNS:

+ Mark is coming off a 5+-year stint as a CFO-leader for a non-profit. Whether you realize it or not, there is a stigma in the market regarding transitioning from non-profit back to for-profit: it's not that easy. When recruiters or hiring managers source talent for a for-profit organization, they will scan his existing resume and (1) immediately see he is at a non-profit organization, and (2) get confused about what the actual title means (academia uses completely different titles that for-profit entities--this needed to be addressed so that his for-profit target audience could understand); and within 6.5 seconds---poof---just like that, decide he is not a fit.

We needed to address these caveats as best as we could with his new branding.

+When I circled back with Mark to confirm what types of roles he was submitting for, I saw a pattern of submitting to high-tech/software finance leader roles. Mark has zero high-tech software experience. Zero.

To be honest, this is a little harder----as software/high-tech recruiters will create Boolean string searches that use "SaaS" or "Technology" or "Enterprise Software" as a key search word. If his resume doesn't have this key search words on his resume---he won't pull into the search queue.

Also, the tech industry is rather finicky---they usually tend to recruit "their own" (aka other tech-industry talent), especially for a mid-management-level role. I brought these caveats to Mark's attention.

To help swing things in his favor for the tech finance roles, I went back to the drawing board again and crafted a 3rd resume for this Target Audience. I also shared with Mark that if he was serious about pursuing an opportunity in tech---he would most likely have to learn how to network his way in to such an opportunity--as he wouldn't get past the gatekeepers. He was up for the task.

+To finalize the new draft, there were additional significant branding issues that needed to be addressed as Mark had downplayed most of his key branding strengths---as he took them for granted or didn't realize how important it was to highlight them in his branding. I was able to address these issues in his new branding.

See below for results:

THE RESUME THAT WAS NOT OPENING DOORS:

THE RESUMES THAT OPENED DOORS:


FOCUS: CFO / SENIOR FINANCE EXECUTIVE SMALL TO MID-TIER ENVIRONMENT WITH A FOCUS ON P&L/GROWTH:





FOCUS: DIRECTOR-LEVEL WITHIN A FORTUNE 500 ENVIRONMENT:




FOCUS: DIRECTOR-LEVEL WITHIN A MID-TIER TO FORTUNE 500 ENVIRONMENT IN THE TECHNOLOGY SECTOR

2022 UPDATE: Mark landed his new role! It is a Director-level role at a mid-tier sized company, with the specific intent to groom him for CFO as the existing CFO is planning retirement in the next year. A great win!


To your empowerment and success,

Piper