Guest comment: Taking the big leap

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Gavin Houchell, managing director of recruitment firm Ambition Finance, on how to put yourself in line for promotion.

Plum jobs such as group financial controller and CFO can be very rewarding, both in a financial and a career sense - and almost everyone wants one. However, making that leap from middle-level finance to a senior role is almost always a challenge.

As a result, career management is more important than ever before, particularly in the competitive world of finance and investment banking.

The key to success lies in developing a career plan which recognises that your employer owns your job, but you own your career. As part of that plan, you need to target areas of the workforce where you can develop skills that make you marketable.

Learn not earn

In today's finance job marketplace, that might mean gaining risk management and compliance experience. If you're younger, you should be focused on 'learning not earning'. Getting the right kind of experience can make you stand out later on in your career for a role where a board is recruiting an 'exact fit' CFO.

In that scenario, there might be three excellent candidates, but the special mid-career experience you've had that's relevant to the sector or the particular demands of a role can give the edge you need.

Position yourself correctly

It will also help if you identify roles that are particularly suited to your attributes and experience. We've recently identified the emergence of different types of CFO roles: the 'compliance CFO' vs the 'commercial CFO'. The former would be a hire for a risk-averse board, while the latter would suit a board that wants to take the business forward quickly.

Maximum visibility

You need to stay visible as your career develops and network in the finance industry. It's also important to select and stay close to referees: the three wise men and women who can sometimes give crucial guidance and support.

Finally, you need to attend at least three or four high-profile industry events each year, where you can talk about the special skills you have to offer, as well as soak up valuable information about the finance marketplace and sectors within it.