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Everything you need to know about hiring a financial controller

Have you ever wondered what a Financial Controller does and why you might need to hire one? Read this blog to find out.

Published on

November 17, 2022


Have you ever wondered what a Financial Controller does and why you might need one?

While the responsibilities for this critical role vary from one organization to the next, all Financial Controllers bring a well-rounded mix of accounting and finance capabilities, including financial strategy and planning, data analysis and reporting, as well as the right leadership and communication skills to manage the daily accounting function and teams—all geared toward driving business growth and financial success.

It's a tall order for one person. So, it’s no wonder that finding the right controller for your organization is such a strategic, important hiring decision.

First things first: before you consider hiring a Financial Controller, you need to understand what they do.

What is a Controller?  

This senior-level accounting and finance professional oversees the daily operations of the Finance department and, depending on your organizational structure, may also oversee other departments such as Human Resources.

In scaling organizations, the Controller can be the senior-most finance and accounting professional; in more established companies with larger teams, they can report directly to a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) or VP of Finance.

Regardless of the reporting structure, Controllers are generally responsible for the overall accounting and financial reporting for the organization, including accounts payable, accounts receivable, payroll and more, ensuring the accuracy of the books, so senior leaders can make informed decisions to drive business growth.

Preparing, reporting and analyzing financial data is core to the job, but they must also be able to forecast, manage cashflow, build and manage budgets, create financial benchmarks, manage staff and work alongside external accounting firms to ensure compliance, aid in the audit process and assist with any merger and acquisition activities.

When should you hire a Controller?

Before hiring a Controller, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is your organization looking to scale? The Controller will streamline reporting and accounting processes, enabling senior leaders to plan and execute a successful growth strategy.
  • Are you effectively managing risk? The Controller will review all financial statements, ensuring there are no discrepancies, tax issues or clerical errors, creating a solid foundation for your organization’s risk management strategy.
  • Is your senior leadership team spending too much time in the financial weeds? Controllers manage all areas of finance, so your senior leaders can get back to what they do best: lead the organization’s growth strategy.
  • Is your CFO or VP of Finance knee-deep in reporting? Hire a Controller to manage the details, so your senior finance leader can focus on strategic financial direction and planning for your organization.

What should you look for when hiring a Controller?  

We asked our expert Finance and Accounting recruiters to share their thoughts on what makes a successful hire. The key thing to keep in mind is that many organizations have different accountabilities and varying scopes for the Controller position.

“A controller in one organization may have a completely different mandate than you are looking for, so it’s more important to hire based on relevant experience rather than job title.”
- Stefanie Hopkins, Senior Account Executive, Finance & Accounting, Altis Recruitment

Here’s what to look for:


  • 5+ years of experience in a senior financial accounting role (including managerial responsibilities): Requirements can fluctuate depending on your Finance department’s size, budget, growth plans and any complexities that exist. The candidate should have a decade (or more) of experience in their field.
  • Multi-faceted experience: The broader the experience (i.e., different organizations, different business challenges, etc.) the more prepared the Controller will be to make sound decisions when it comes to optimizing financial and accounting processes, updating accounting technologies, managing the team, and so on.
  • Detail-oriented, with a flair for storytelling: Controllers must be meticulous, detail-oriented professionals with deep knowledge of all aspects of accounting and finance (i.e., A/P, A/R). They need to ensure accuracy while also clearly communicating to the senior leadership team the “story” behind the numbers in a clear, compelling way, so they can make informed business decisions. What do the numbers say about the financial health and wellbeing of the company? How can they be used to empower actionable insights? Look for Controllers with exceptional communication skills and the ability to translate numbers into stories.
  • Keenly focused on efficiencies and optimization: Business success is highly dependent on continuously improving processes to drive efficiencies and ensure the effectiveness of resources. Controllers can provide valuable insights into where reporting, processes and technology can be improved, always backed by clear data and sound metrics. Look for Controllers who can provide additional value beyond the basics of financial reporting.
  • Strong leadership skills: Even if you’re hiring a Controller to be the sole member of your Finance and Accounting team, think about the future. As your organization scales, the Controller will build, nurture and lead a team of finance professionals, so leadership skills are key. In addition to the required hard skills (sound finance and accounting training and experience), they need soft skills. The ability to inspire, motivate and provide learning and development opportunities. They also need to be empathetic and understanding, fostering the mental health and wellbeing of their high-functioning team. Financial reporting is cyclical (monthly, quarterly, annual reporting) and at times, stressful. The Controller needs to be resilient, and capable of remaining cool while managing the pressure on their team. Look for accounting and finance leaders who have shown resilience and have been able to adapt to different circumstances and pressures to lead their teams to success.

What qualifications or education should a Controller have?  

Just as no two organizations are alike, the role of the Controller varies from one organization to the next and thus, the qualifications and education can vary.

Look for Controllers with a minimum of a bachelor's degree in finance and accounting, and if your Controller will need to make complex business decisions, you may search for candidates with an MBA. While considered an asset, a CPA designation (Chartered Professional Accountant) is not always required for a Controller to be successful. In today’s highly competitive market for finance and accounting professionals, if a solid candidate does not have their CPA, consider sweetening the employment offer by saying you will support them in achieving their designation.

How about relevant experience? Many Controllers have worked in public accounting as auditors or accountants, while others have gained valuable experience in other sectors like not-for-profit, government, broader public sector or private sector. When hiring a Controller, consider whether you need industry-specific experience for the role. Can you look at transferable skills? Do you need someone who has led a team previously or can you train on this? Dig deep into the specific job duties they previously held and ensure they are a match to your job requirements.

“And to make certain your candidate stays with you long term, ensure you have succession planning in place tailored to the candidate and that the role fits with their career goals. This is just as important as making sure the candidate has the right expertise and experience to take on the role with minimal training.”
- Julie Page, Senior Account Executive, Finance & Accounting, Altis Recruitment
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