Six Warning Signs It's Time to Look for a New Job

It’s easier for a CIO to make a career move from a position of strength (read: employed). So use these ideas to assess your situation and whether it’s time to make a move now.

While it is never much fun to look for a job, it is far less enjoyable when you’re unemployed. When you are out on your own, you are not as squarely on the radar screen of recruiters, and you may have an air of desperation about you that can be pretty unattractive to a potential employer. It is a far better strategy to start your job search early—and interview from a position of stability than to wait until you “need the job.” Here are five warning signs that it is time to dust off the Rolodex and update your résumé.

1. You report to the CFO now, not to the CEO. Once the CEO restructures and puts you under finance, he or she is sending a clear sign that IT is not strategic; it’s a cost center. Unless cutting budgets and watching your pennies is your thing, it is probably time to get out.

2. You've gone as high as you can go. When John von Stein, currently CIO of Options Clearing Corporation, had been VP of IT at Cargill for several years, he knew that the next level up, the CIO role, was one that would not be open to him for some time. So, he assessed the likelihood of a move over to the business side as a division president.

"Since I came from the commercial side of business earlier in my career, so I expressed interest in going back over to that side as a business unit leader," he says. "Not much materialized there for me since most business units had their own pipeline filled with people already. After 18 months or so it became obvious that neither 'up' nor 'over' were going to work out for me at Cargill, so 'out' was the only alternative left."

3. Your company is on the block. If the parent company announces its intention to sell your division, your future will most likely take one of three paths: 1) in the typical cost-cutting that happens before a sale, you will be asked to downsize your organization, 2) you will be asked to take a package and leave yourself, or 3) once the sale takes place, you will be replaced by the CIO of the acquiring company. Of course, it is possible that the sale of your division will provide new opportunities for you in the acquiring company, but it is better to have a job search under way as you wait to find out.

Even in the event that if the acquiring company offers you a new job, you still need to think long and hard about whether you want to take it. Greg Bixby, now CIO of Capital Bancorp, was CIO of Republic Bancorp during its acquisition by Citizens Banking in 2006. In the final phases of the acquisition, he was offered a role managing all of the back back-office deposit operations, facilities and procurement. While this would have been a job on a larger scale than his previous CIO role, Bixby turned it down.

"After helping to build a company for 13 years and instilling my philosophy into how we managed technology, I realized that I was too attached and would not deal well with any loss of control," he says. "When a company merges, everybody is in turmoil. I reasoned that if I'm going to go through all of that change, I'd rather do it on my own terms. I'd rather go out and select a new company than have a company select me."

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4. You’re a turnaround CIO in maintenance mode. When I talk with CIOs who are ready to make a move, I often hear them say, “I fixed everything and now I’m bored.” If you, like so many CIOs, are a change addict who gains gratification from bringing order to chaos, it is time to move on when you’ve steadied the ship and can put it on auto-pilot. In the best of circumstances, once you’ve turned around an organization, you are in a position to innovate and help grow the company. However, not every company can invest in enough technology-driven innovation to keep you challenged, and not every CIO can handle slow, incremental growth. If you love a big mess, go find another one.

5. You hate your new boss. In order to work effectively, members of a management team need to have some rapport. Chances are that you took the job—in part—because you were excited to work with the person hiring you. If that person leaves, and his or her replacement possesses characteristics and opinions that are anathema to your own, it may make sense to begin a job search. Perhaps you have thrived in a consensus-driven organization, and your new CEO’s command and control approach doesn’t work for you. As you spend the time doing your best to nurture the new relationship, you can evaluate new opportunities as they come along.

6. Your industry is failing. It is a courageous move to stay with a company that is dying but cannot reinvent itself to survive. You will gain valuable perspective, build character, and have enough lessons learned to fill a book. Once you’ve gained all that you can from helping a company try to survive in an industry that isn’t making it, you might consider moving to an industry in growth mode. (It’s much more fun.)

It is not unusual for a job search to take six months or more, particularly if you have geographic limitations or are targeting a specific industry or narrowly defined field. If signs point to a less than positive future in your current organization, start your job search now. Ask anyone who has ever put in a disaster recovery plan: It’s a lot easier to plan for disaster than recover after it strikes.

Martha Heller is managing director of the IT Leadership Practice at ZRG, an executive recruiting firm based in Boston. Reach her at mheller@zrgroup.com.

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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