Jonathan Killion, CFA
I joined Carl Marks Advisors in the fall of 2007 as an Analyst. Over the course of the past 10 years, I have had the good fortune of working on dozens of interesting situations and traveling much of the country to do so. In addition to client service, one of the more recent responsibilities I have acquired has been to identify, hire and integrate into the firm the next generation of talented restructuring professionals.
Over the last 3+ years, I have interviewed countless candidates – almost all of which were talented and impressive. The challenge when hiring is identifying those potential employees who possess the skills to thrive as restructuring professionals and the makeup to fit into the CMA culture. As part of the interview process, I am often asked what CMA looks for in a qualified candidate, and in turn, what I believe makes a restructuring professional successful. I offer the following five criteria that CMA prioritizes when evaluating candidates, believing the correlation to be high between these skills and success in the industry and at our firm.
1. Technical Competency with an Emphasis on Accounting
I am a firm believer that a strong accounting background is imperative to success in restructuring. On a daily basis we communicate with financial officers and sophisticated capital providers. It is critical that everyone on the team be fluent in the comprehension, analysis and presentation of financial information. While a strong accounting background doesn’t guarantee an individual will have the skills to be successful, I believe those individuals who have strong accounting fundamentals are well-equipped for restructuring. As part of the interview process, I spend a considerable amount of time gaining a better understanding of a candidate’s accounting background and testing for a core level of competency, regardless of position.
2. Communication Skills
Quantitative proficiency alone is insufficient for success in restructuring. The need to translate analytics into a well delivered presentation or report is equally as important as preparing the underlying data. At the junior level, CMA focuses on a candidate’s ability to organize, structure and communicate salient points through writing. As an individuals’ career progresses, we strive to provide opportunities to enhance presentation capabilities. When hiring more senior positions (i.e. VP and above) we expect candidates to have more advanced client-facing communication skills.
3. An Appreciation for Client Service
Client service is at the core of everything that we do at CMA. Restructuring is challenging and successful outcomes are far from certain. The need to be attentive, maintain constant communication with clients, and act with a sense of urgency is imperative to a successful restructuring relationship.
4. Demonstration of High Achievement in College and Post-Graduation
A commitment to high achievement is critical to being successful – and starts with receiving a degree from a well-respected undergraduate or graduate institution. However, it is vital that a candidate build upon an educational foundation by continuing to develop their skills.
I view the hiring process as an investment in an individual. CMA hires a person not only for what we believe they can do today but also what we think they can become. Understanding a potential new employee’s commitment to investing their own time and money to build skills is an important indicator of motivation – and ultimately success. Pursuing professional designations such as the CPA or CFA are excellent examples of a dedication to advancing skills and so is being actively involved in organizations that illustrate a commitment to a skill or passion.
5. An Ability to Thrive in Uncertain Environments
Lastly, individuals need to be honest with themselves about whether or not they are able and willing to live the lifestyle demanded to be successful in this profession. The ability to be flexible and comfortable reacting to ever-changing circumstances is imperative to being successful at CMA, and also to being professionally happy. The life of a restructuring professional can be chaotic. Travel is often demanding; hours are long and deadlines are tight. Some people thrive and enjoy this type of environment while others prefer a more predictable schedule. When I meet with a candidate, I stress that they need to be honest with themselves about if the lifestyle and the dynamics of this profession fit with their personality and career goals. It is best for everyone to understand up front if the requirements of the role are not a good fit.