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How Do I Become a Chief Financial Officer?

A chief financial officer oversees the financial operations of a business.
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  • Written By: Jeremy Laukkonen
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 21 September 2014
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In order to qualify for the position of chief financial officer (CFO), you will need a great deal of knowledge regarding accounting and finance in addition to extensive managerial experience. The career path to become a chief financial officer often begins with a college education in accounting or business. You typically then need to go to work in the corporate world, preferably in the financial or business planning department of a large company. It can be helpful to supplement your education with managerial training to help you get on that career track. To achieve the position of chief financial officer, you will need to stand out from your peers, and it may be necessary to change organizations as you move up through the corporate ranks.

Chief financial officers are one of the c-suite executives that exist in many large corporations. In the same way that other c-suite positions are each responsible for managing one aspect of the corporation, the CFO can be called on to shape the financial dealings of the business. A great deal of financial knowledge, business acumen, and managerial experience is typically required to succeed at the job. If you become a chief financial officer, you will typically be responsible for shaping financial policy, making important business decisions, and managing the personnel beneath you.

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One of the first steps to becoming a chief financial officer is typically to get a good education. Your specific degree can vary depending on the career path you want to take, but accounting is one typical choice. It can also be helpful to be a certified public accountant (CPA). Many chief financial officers also attend graduate school for a master of business administration (MBA) or other advanced degree, though you can often pursue this type of schooling after you are already moving up through the corporate ranks.

After graduation, you will typically want to find work with a larger corporation that offers plenty of opportunity for advancement. This may not be the business where you eventually become a chief financial officer, but it will be where you begin to gain promotions and move into a management track. You will typically want to begin in the financial or business planning department, but by working hard and standing out you will hopefully move into management.

As you gain promotions and managerial experience, you may have the opportunity to climb further in the corporate ranks, or another business might offer you an opportunity. Corporations sometimes choose chief financial officers from within, but in many cases the only way to reach that level is to change organizations. You may develop some corporate loyalty, but if you want to become a chief financial officer you typically must be ready to accept any good opportunity that comes your way.

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Post 2

Most CFOs I've known have been at least CPAs and many of them also hold an MBA. Those are two great degree combinations for anyone who wants to life the fun and adventure-filled life of a CFO.

Well, there's not a lot of adventure to it, but a good CFO can make or break a company. A fiscally conservative, disciplined CFO who understands a companies finances can help steer an organization through a recession or when times are hard. Those who lack that discipline -- or the backbone to insist on spending money wisely when there's pressure to do otherwise -- can lead a company to ruin.

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