How Unemployed CIOs Can Survive the Dark Days

A long job hunt takes a personal and professional toll. CIOs have family and financial concerns while they reassess their careers and face a changing job market. But here's how CIOs can emerge stronger than ever.

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Erik Viens

Experienced CIO Erik Viens was in the job hunt in 2009 and 2010. He had left Invista, a chemical company owned by Koch Industries, intending to retire, but found he missed work. He then got into consulting while looking for a full-time CIO position--a process he hadn't undertaken for a couple of decades. He had joined DuPont in 1981 and later progressed through the IT ranks before being selected to help lead Invista as DuPont spun it out into a separate company.

If a CIO targets the Fortune 500, he says, "it can be daunting to be looking for a job where there might be 10 jobs a year and there are 100 really qualified people looking."

Viens laments that interviewers can't get to know you well, even during a whole grueling day of talks, meals and glad-handing. He recommends interviewees undertake meticulous preparation that includes researching the company's business issues and enumerating how potential solutions match your own skills. For an interview with a $7 billion metals manufacturer, Viens created a PowerPoint presentation outlining how his style of leadership could benefit the company, given the challenges and competition it faced. He also made a spreadsheet for himself showing ways his experience, skills and ideas matched each part of the job description he'd been given.

"Be aggressive about showing them what you want them to know," he says. But, he adds, be aware that even if you come off flawlessly, the final decision may be based on criteria that's out of your hands, such as another candidate not needing to relocate. "It can be a very traumatic situation for a lot of people."

Last September, he joined Univar, a privately held distributor of chemistry products and services, as CIO.

The unemployment experience has made him more sensitive to peers when they're in a similar situation, he says. He provides mentoring, references and feedback as much as he can. "I do that much better now because I've experienced it."

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