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Careers - Eye-catching work pays off

Ambitious finance directors need to make sure that, as well as doing good work, the good work they do is noticed by the headhunters - because they aren't going to find you if they have to look too hard.

Finance directors need to get themselves noticed, so your first step should be to develop a network of contacts throughout your career.

Stay in touch with old colleagues and try to leave a positive impression with everyone you come across in your business and private life.

Developing respect amongst professional advisers, such as investment bankers and lawyers, can be particularly useful for impressing headhunters, advises Suzzane Wood, a partner and head of the financial management practice at executive search consultants Odgers Ray & Berndtson. “Make sure your profile with external advisers is well-regarded because we often source them for recommendations,” she says. “Lawyers are particularly useful to us because they sit in on negotiations and see you in a pressured situation.”

Another basic but effective method that can ensure the headhunters know about you is to publicise your promotions. “We pick people up in the movers and shakers columns in the press,” Wood says. “Make sure your appointments are announced, even if they are internal moves. They get noticed. We all monitor the press.”

To make absolutely certain, those keen to actively manage their careers could even send a note to a headhunter directly, enclosing an updated CV and explaining that they have changed roles. The headhunter will realise you will not be in the market for another job straight away – but if you present yourself as a mover and shaker, they may be sufficiently interested to make a note of your new contact details for future reference.

Maximising exposure during the annual reporting season is also highly recommended. “If the FD of a public company is pictured with the CEO in the Financial Times, that’s something that sticks in the headhunter’s mind,” says Wood. “So make sure you maximise your PR opportunities when you are announcing your results.”

In general, developing a high profile in the industry (so long as it’s positive, obviously) can only help career ambitions. Apart from earning the respect of immediate colleagues and bosses, you can also achieve this by promoting your name by writing articles in the press or speaking at relevant conferences.

“The conference industry relies on able and willing speakers to cover topical subjects,” says Jeff Grout, a respected recruitment expert. “If you are asked to speak, it may be worth considering doing so as a profile-raising move. You could even contact conference organisers directly, if you see topics that you could speak on. If you can use your own and your organisation’s experiences in your talk, so much the better.”

Headhunters like to think they can unearth talent themselves and they publicly subscribe to the maxim “Don’t call us, we’ll call you”. However, many will be amenable to direct approaches from candidates seeking an immediate job move. “The majority of headhunters will read speculative applications and will consider them for roles they happen to be trying to fill,” says Grout. “Therefore, there is no harm in contacting them directly if your CV is impressive.”

This kind of active career management is worth the effort. Suzzane Wood gives the example of Andrew Higginson, group finance director of Tesco, as someone who has actively managed his career and developed “an extremely good profile with search businesses”.

Higginson moved from Guinness to Laura Ashley, then to Burton Group and finally to Tesco. “His career as a young finance man has been well documented and he has always built good relationships,” says Wood. “He makes sure he does high profile things, such as becoming president of the Association of Corporate Treasurers. He is now 44 and is building a non-executive portfolio.”

Career success doesn’t come to accountants who simply keep their heads down and work hard. Those who attract the headhunter’s eye are the people prepared to stick their heads above the parapet and make sure their name gets known.

Jeff Grout and Sarah Perrin are co-authors of Kickstart Your Career: The Complete Insider’s Guide To Landing Your Ideal Job (published by John Wiley).

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