Chief Financial Officer Careers: Job Description & Salary

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A chief financial officer's median salary is around $120,000. Is it worth the education requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about the career outlook to find out if becoming a chief financial officer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Chief Financial Officer

Chief financial officers (CFOs) consult with company presidents and chief operations officers on matters that impact an organization's cash flow, in addition to managing companies' financial health and answering for the accuracy of an organization's financial reports. Read the pros and cons to decide whether being a chief financial officer is the right fit for you.

Pros of Being a Chief Financial Officer
High salary (roughly $75,000 more than national mean wage)*
Significant additional non-salary compensation (bonuses, stock options and perquisites can constitute one-third to half of a compensation package)**
Hold the highest-ranking financial position in an organization*
Employment options with private industry, voluntary organizations and the public sector*
Opportunity to steer the direction of the company or organization*

Cons of Being a Chief Financial Officer
Requires 10 years or more of experience**
Highly competitive job market*
Advancement may require relocating**
Compensation and continued employment may depend on the company's performance**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Financial Executives International

Job Description and Salary

A company's lifeblood is in its balance sheets, and the CFO is the executive ultimately in charge of the health of those balance sheets and, by extension, the financial health of a company. Chief financial officers may establish and maintain the budget for a company, but they act as more than just the head accountant. As a senior advisor to the management team, a CFO manages the corporate finance and reporting, including internal controls and the company's financial management system. In expanding companies, they may set up or modify accounting and reporting practices to comply with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) or international financial reporting standards (IFRS).

Typically, a CFO reports to the chief executive officer (CEO) or an executive board. In this position, you may confer with the CEO or operations officer about the opportunities to expand the business or the financial implications of anticipated actions. You might also consult with the human resources department about whether a change in employee benefits might save or ultimately cost the company money, and oversee the administration and investment of the company's pension funds.

Salary and Benefits

Even at the low end of the salary range, chief financial officers earned well over the U.S. household average. Most chief financial officers earned $67,000-$246,000 in combined salary and benefits, according to PayScale.com in July 2015. CFOs of privately held companies tended to make less than the CFOs of companies that had gone public, and the CFOs of nonprofits and government agencies may have fewer fringe benefits. Especially in publicly traded companies, a large part of a CFO's compensation may be non-cash benefits like preferred stock options or the use of a company vehicle. Cash bonuses can be a significant part of a CFO's compensation package, and these are often tied to the company's success in meeting revenue and operations goals.

Career Skills and Requirements

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), many top executives, including CFOs, have at least a bachelor's degree and numerous years of experience. Chief financial officers need solid academic foundations in accounting and business management, as well as persistence, leadership and communication skills to deal with other executives and shareholders. These intangible skills are often cultivated through years of experience and taking on professional challenges outside of your comfort zone.

CPA Certification

Publicly traded companies often require their CFOs to be certified public accountants, enabling the chief financial officer to sign off on SEC-required audits. Since most states require CPAs to have at least 150 hours of college coursework, which is about a year beyond the typical requirements of a bachelor's degree, many CPAs hold master's degrees in accounting. Organizations often seek out potential CFOs who have a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in finance or accounting.

What Companies Are Looking For

Experience requirements in job postings for CFOs frequently specify the annual revenue or budget size of previous companies or organizations that a candidate has worked for, and one way to advance in your career is to helm the finances of progressively larger companies. Companies often look for CFOs who have prior experience in the same sector. Below is a sampling of what some companies were looking for in potential chief financial officers in February 2012:

  • A transportation services company in Oregon sought a CFO to join the executive management team to plan and oversee all accounting and financial aspects of the company, as well as coordinate with the human resources department on the financial implications of employee benefits. Candidates were expected to have more than 10 years of experience in financial leadership roles as well as either a bachelor's degree, an MBA or a CPA credential.
  • A software developer in Wisconsin was looking for a finance professional with prior accounting experience at private companies that had revenues in excess of $125 million.
  • A pet food company in New Jersey advertised for a CPA with prior senior-level accounting experience and leadership skills to fill a CFO opening that included setting up auditing systems and managing recordkeeping systems in accordance with GAAP.
  • A nonprofit organization in California sought a leader to oversee the financial reporting and cash flow of the operation and a liaison with the organization's executive board to advise on financial matters. Applicants needed to have a CPA or MBA, as well as a minimum of 10 years of experience.

How to Stand Out

Companies may hire CFOs from within the organization or search for new executives using executive recruitment firms or personal referrals. While personal connections on their own won't be enough to land you in the executive suite, maintaining a robust professional network can let you know about executive positions before they're publicized. Additionally, your peers may steer you toward companies where they know you'll be a good fit.

Prepare for Interviews

When hiring a CFO, companies typically go through a multi-stage interview process, and during this process, your knowledge of the company's business practices and corporate culture can set you apart. Companies look for a CFO who fits with the corporate culture as much as they look for one with the requisite skills and experience.

Demonstrate Professional Ethics

In the wake of financial scandals, ethics are an increasing concern for search teams looking for CFOs. Adhering to a professional group's code of ethics is a start; however, maintaining and actively demonstrating impeccable professional ethics in all of your business dealings is essential.

Other Careers to Consider

Internal Auditor

If you're looking for a job that allows you to work closely with a company's finances and operations without having the added duties of a corporate executive and the preference for a graduate degree, you might consider a career in internal auditing. You can qualify to take the Institute of Internal Auditors' examination for the Certified Internal Auditor credential with a bachelor's degree and two years of work experience. Most internal auditors earned between $33,000-$70,000, according to PayScale.com in June 2012.

General Manager

Perhaps you'd like to have duties within a company that emphasis the day-to-day operations and focus less on the financial aspects of the company? Then a career as a general manager could be a good fit. As with CFO careers, general management is a long-term career track, and it can potentially lead to the chief executive's office. A bachelor's degree and experience may be enough to qualify as a general manager. According to the BLS, general and operations managers earned a mean salary of about $114,000 in 2011.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Finance - Financial Analysis
      • MS in Finance
      • MS in Finance - Financial Planning
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      • MS in Accounting- Tax Specialization
    Bachelor's
      • Accelerated MS in Finance Option
      • BS in Finance
      • BS in Finance - General Finance
      • BSBA in Financial Analysis
      • BS in Finance - Investments
      • Bachelor: Accounting
    Associate's
      • Associate: Accounting
      • Associate: Business Admin.
      • Associate: Business Admin. - Office Mgmt
    Certificate
      • Executive Leader Graduate Certificate
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Johns Hopkins University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Government Analytics
  • Campus and Online Programs
    3. Louisiana State University Shreveport

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Business Administration - Finance Concentration
      • Master of Business Administration - Finance Specialization
      • Master of Business Administration with a General Business Specialization
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    4. American National University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Business Administration
    Associate's
      • Business Administration Management - Associate
    Certificate
      • Accounting - Diploma
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  • Campus and Online Programs
    5. South College

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Business Administration with a Concentration in Accounting
      • Bachelor of Business Administration
    Associate's
      • Associate of Science in Accounting
      • Associate of Science in Business Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Regent University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Business Administration - Finance and Investing
      • Master of Arts in Law - Business
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    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Science in Accounting
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    7. Notre Dame de Namur University

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    Master's
      • Masters in Business Administration
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    8. Georgetown University

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    Master's
      • Master of Science in Finance
      • Masters of Professional Studies in Technology Management
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    9. South University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Accounting (BS to MS) (MS)
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      • Business Administration (DBA)
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    10. George Mason University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Business Administration

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • MS in Finance - Financial Analysis
  • Accelerated MS in Finance Option
  • Associate: Accounting
  • Executive Leader Graduate Certificate

Which subject are you interested in?

Johns Hopkins University

  • Master of Science in Government Analytics

What is your highest level of education?

Louisiana State University Shreveport

  • Master of Business Administration - Finance Concentration
  • Master of Business Administration - Finance Specialization
  • Master of Business Administration with a General Business Specialization

What is your highest level of education completed?

American National University

  • Master of Business Administration
  • Business Administration Management - Associate
  • Accounting - Diploma

What is your education level?

South College

  • Bachelor of Business Administration with a Concentration in Accounting
  • Bachelor of Business Administration
  • Associate of Science in Accounting
  • Associate of Science in Business Administration

What is your highest level of education completed?

Regent University

  • Master of Business Administration - Finance and Investing
  • Master of Arts in Law - Business
  • Bachelor of Science in Accounting
  • Bachelor of Science in Business

What is your highest level of education completed?

Notre Dame de Namur University

  • Masters in Business Administration

What is your highest level of education completed?

Georgetown University

  • Master of Science in Finance
  • Masters of Professional Studies in Technology Management
  • Master of Professional Studies in Real Estate

What is your highest level of education completed?