by Martha Heller

The state of the CIO job market

Oct 07, 20206 mins

A recruiter's perspective on the CIO job market and interview process today.

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With COVID impacting our professional lives in so many ways, I find that my team and I are fielding quite a few questions about how the CIO job market and interview process have changed since March. So, in an act of shameless solipsism, I offer you a Q&A with myself.

What is the current state of the CIO job market?

From my vantage point as CEO of a CIO search firm, I can tell you that business is brisk right now. Back in March, when the reality of the COVID-19 came crashing in on all of us, many of our CIO searches were put on hold, and we did not sign a single new one. April was a different story: we signed new searches in grocery, food & beverage, and the non-profit sector.

Since then, our monthly new search totals have been at a historic high with new engagements in healthcare, manufacturing, financial services, high-tech, and more food & beverage. Our private equity clients are particularly active, snapping up companies in need of IT leadership. What’s more, we have since relaunched the searches that our clients put on hold back in March.

Why the uptick in new search activity?

With a few exceptions, if you are the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, you plan to stay in business. For some companies, say, hospitality, retail, cruises, and airlines, your path is a particularly challenging one, but you are determined to make it through. What do you need most right now? Technology. You need tools for remote work, new and improved security, better data analytics of precision planning, and an acceleration of your digital roadmap. And you need a good CIO to lead in all of those efforts.

As CEO, you have an opportunity to look back over the last six months and evaluate your IT leadership team. How did they perform in moving your workforce to remote? Did you have the analytics you needed to quickly pivot your business? Based on this performance, do you have confidence in your CIO to drive your digital roadmap?

For CIOs who performed well, this is all good news. As Rich Gilbert, chief digital information officer at Aflac says, “In May, our global operations and technology committee approved additional investments to accelerate our digital strategy. We are simplifying and reinventing our products, enabling digital sales, and using automation to optimize our back-office processes. If COVID didn’t happen, we would have moved forward on all of this, but not as quickly.”

But CIOs who did not inspire the same level of confidence in the executive committee are being invited to pursue employment elsewhere, leaving their companies looking for new CIOs—one driver behind the uptick in CIO searches.

That being said, as the pandemic lingers on, we are likely to see some acquisitions and consolidations that will take some CIO roles out of the market forever. So, better to hold onto the job you have now, while you look for a new one, than go into the market without a new job lined up.

Are newly-hired CIOs still expected to relocate to corporate headquarters?

That seems to be the case. Out of all of our new searches, only one has relinquished the need for relocation. We just filled a CIO search, for example, in the Midwest with a candidate from the Southeast. The candidate has school-age kids who will have a tough time acclimating to a new school with no sports, activities, or other traditional friend-making opportunities. So, the CEO is fine with holding off on relocation for a while. But once we are able to resume life as usual (it has to happen, doesn’t it?), the pressure will be on for the CIO to relocate permanently. Perhaps as the pandemic drags on, CEOs will relent on relocation, but I am not seeing signs of this just yet.

What is the interview process like these days?

It’s fast! In the “before days,” a candidate might do one screening video conference (or phone call, if you can imagine such a thing) with the CHRO, but would then book flights, often weeks away, to interview with the members of the interview committee, who are rarely all free on the same day. After a solid three weeks of getting through the first round, finalists would then fly back in for more interviews. If board members are involved, candidates might fly to multiple cities to meet everyone.

But that was then. These days, nearly all interviews are happening by video, and they tend to happen just days after candidate presentation. That means our “time to fill” has been reduced dramatically and candidates can expect a shorter interview process. What’s more, even with CEOs expecting their new CIO to relocate eventually, roughly 40 percent of our candidates are receiving offers without ever getting on a plane. Many candidates choose to travel for the final interview because they want to see the offices and tour the real estate options in their potential new communities, but that is their choice. Not one of our clients has demanded a visit.

Any advice for CIOs on the market?

First, don’t assume the CIO job market is slow. It’s not. If you are ready to make a change, start working your networks and get out there. Second, make sure you emphasize, in your resume and interview, your experience driving transformation. Yes, transformation is important in any climate, but with companies having to reinvent fast, this attribute has never been more important. Third, give some thought to team leadership in the world of remote. How are you creating camaraderie among your staff during COVID? How are you tracking productivity? This is new territory for companies, and the executive committee will want to understand your approach.

And finally, on the more tactical level, test your video connection before your interviews, change out of your sweatshirt and put on a jacket. If possible, get the kids and the dogs out of the house for an hour. And don’t let the exhaustion from the last 12 hours of videos with your team translate into low energy during your interviews. While expectations around formality have changed, executive presence still matters.