What Do CROs Look for in a Risk Manager?

Technical skills are always in demand for job candidates and for risk professionals seeking to climb the corporate ladder, but problem-solving, curiosity, strong communication, and the ability to negotiate are also highly valued.

Friday, February 10, 2023

By Tod Ginnis


You’re ready to interview for an exciting risk management position. You’ve researched the company’s business and its current challenges, and you’re prepared to explain to human resources or the hiring manager how your background makes you an ideal fit for the job. But what happens when the firm’s chief risk officer (CRO) is included in the interview process?

CROs, who are now viewed as potential future CEO material, often have a different perspective than other risk managers. They think about risk on an enterprise level and take steps to ensure that risk management is seen as a partner in helping the business achieve its goals, rather than as a rival seeking to hamstring the firm’s core business in the interest of minimizing risk.

Inside the Mind of a CRO

Clifford Rossi is a Professor-of-the-Practice and Executive-in-Residence at the Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland, where he teaches risk management courses. Formerly the CRO of Citigroup’s Consumer Lending Group, Rossi knows what CROs look for in a new hire.

Clifford RossiClifford Rossi, Professor-of-the-Practice and Executive-in-Residence, University of Maryland

For entry-level positions, Rossi believes a good CRO doesn’t micromanage the process, instead offering guidance to underlings and trusting them to make good hiring decisions. When he held the top risk management post, he says his staff would occasionally ask for his help in evaluating young candidates to determine their communications or problem-solving skills. “When hiring junior risk managers, I sometimes did a 30-minute interview with promising candidates and tried to sell them on working for us,” Rossi recalls.

A different, more hands-on conversation typically takes place for more senior roles. For senior-level risk management jobs, Rossi says it’s crucial for the CRO to distinguish between an independent contributor who fell into a more responsible role managing people versus someone with a broader vision who can amplify the risk management abilities of staff in a way that benefits the entire firm. By asking well-thought-out questions about what a candidate did in previous jobs, he elaborates, a CRO can get a better understanding of their leadership skills and about how he or she may fit the firm’s specific needs.

The Skills CROs Like to See

If you encounter a CRO during the interview process, how you can make a good impression and stand out from the crowd ? While a technical background might secure the interview for more junior positions (where there’s lots of on-the-job learning), it’s the non-technical intangibles that are often the keys to career success in risk management.

“I want good communicators who can take their technical work and translate it for senior business leaders. And I really like to see teamwork skills,” Rossi says, adding he didn’t have time to deal with brilliant people who were unable to cooperate with co-workers.

The ability to meet deadlines and a curiosity about managing risk are also important intangibles. “I’d love to have the old TV detective Columbo working for me,” Rossi quips. “There’s nothing better than a risk manager who keeps peeling back the layers of the onion and asks, ‘what’s going on here?’”

When interviewing candidates for more senior positions, Rossi is less concerned with domain expertise and more interested in soft skills like communication and negotiation. He considers the ability to influence and shape a conversation to be a critical skill. “Oftentimes you're facing off. There's a natural tension between business or finance and the risk department. I want people who have the courage of their convictions,” Rossi emphasizes.

While overly cautious risk managers can stunt an organization’s growth, being a “yes” person for the business – i.e., one who is afraid to demand prudent controls – can do irreparable harm. This is, however, a delicate balancing act.

In a moment of frustration, Rossi once asked a board chairman, “Do you want a watchdog or a lapdog?” He was somewhat surprised he kept his job, but the experience taught him a valuable lesson. “Good risk managers need to stand tall and not bend to pressure,” he counsels. “The path of least resistance is to go along, but you should understand that this isn’t always an easy job.”

Tod Ginnis is a content specialist at GARP. He is the author of a GARP blog that is aimed at early-career risk managers and professionals aspiring to earn their Financial Risk Manager (FRM) certification.


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