by CIO Staff

Get Back in the Game: Returning to Your Old Career as CIO or CTO

Nov 15, 200010 mins

Q: I have held senior management positions in technology for some time now and had the experience of going through an IPO. As a result, I am in a good position financially, so when opportunities to do something different came along I tried them—in the IT recruiting space, business development and even a position in the trades.

However, I’ve found that I don’t really like anything better than information systems and senior technical management, and I would like to get back in the game as a CTO or CIO. How do I best represent my career moves while trying to move back into the mainstream IT world? Have I made an unrecoverable career error?

A: No, I don’t believe that your quest for challenges and your desire to evaluate what’s outside of traditional technical management are career stoppers. Any interviewer who would reject your candidacy based on the fact that you tried a few things outside the box is probably jealous or intimidated by your success and good fortune, so just move on.

Pay attention when you find yourself facing an interviewer who genuinely feels good about what has happened for you in your career. In fact, I really like the idea that you have gotten the wanderlust out of your system and have learned a lot about yourself and what you want to do with your professional life. That should make you a very focused and perhaps passionate addition to someone’s staff.

As for your r¿m¿it should—as always—be as direct as possible while presenting the truthful chronology spun in its best light. Although I don’t usually recommend an “objective” statement, it would be appropriate to include one at the top of your r¿m¿stating your desire to return to information technology leadership. From my perspective, the most important question is, What level are you qualified for, given your previous IT track record moderated by your time away from the technology and managing positions? The answer is impossible to tell from your question. But I advise that you not be dogmatic about reentering IT as a CIO or CTO. You may have to step back and work your way back up the ladder, at least a rung or two.

Whose Responsibility?

Q: I am an applications development manager who has been given the assignment by the CIO to author and develop functional standards for our organization’s intranet. I am eager and excited about this assignment, but currently the marketing services manager is managing and responsible for the intranet. I feel like I may be setting myself up for some problems later on. Where, in your opinion, should management of the intranet fall?

A: Technology responsibility for your company’s intranet must be the domain of IS, while content responsibility remains with the cognizant department, be it marketing, sales, human resources and so on. The variable issue in practice at many companies is the middle ground of content entry and quality assurance. Why not charge and empower the originator with that accountability and control, with an oversight responsibility in IS for ensuring that the standards that you will develop—in concert with the corporate communications function—are observed?

Career Is Ongoing

Q: What is the average life span of a CIO in today’s fast-paced business environment?

A: This has been the subject of so many jokes, and we all know that CIO stands for career is over, right? Actually, the numbers contradict the notion that CIOs don’t or can’t hold on to their jobs. Recent surveys conducted by CIO and the Society for Human Resource Management, among several others, point to an average CIO longevity in the four-and-a-half to six-year range. And in the research report “The Changing Role of the CIO,” conducted and published by Korn/Ferry International and the Financial Times (, the majority of the CIOs polled said they expected to remain in their current position from three to seven years. Judging from the r¿m¿that land on my desk these days, I think that we could transfer the joke to CTOs in the B2C space.

Hail to the Chancellor

Q: What differences in job functions can I expect when moving from a CIO to vice chancellor of information technology/CIO (dual position) in a university environment?

A: It’s very hard to answer you without knowing precisely what the titles’ semantics imply. My experience has been that chancellor and related (associate, assistant) titles generally refer to responsibility at the university-system level—usually at the state level of public universities such as the State University of New York, the University of California or Penn State University. These statewide systems of higher education are actually comprised of numerous state university campuses, colleges and institutions, each of which usually has a resident CIO or IT director reporting to the local president or provost, and also has a dotted reporting line to the chancellor’s office. In the latter case, the reporting chain of command is often to the vice chancellor of information technology—very much like divisional chief information officers and the corporate CIO in a typical large Fortune 500 company.

So perhaps the dual role you have cited has both statewide oversight and individual campus line management responsibilities. Alternatively, another question is: Does the vice chancellor role you refer to have an academic responsibility tied to it?

Seeking Fame and Fortune

Q: I am an IS executive with a solid background in various fields of technology and business. Right now I would like to supplement my experience and reputation by writing articles and white papers for leading technical publications. How should I get started making a name for myself outside my company in order to get articles published? Will this improve my reputation and marketability?

A: I think that depends on what you are trying to accomplish. If you want to establish yourself as a subject-matter expert or a thought leader in a particular facet of technology or an IT-driven business function, then a white paper or case study of your company—or several companies that have undertaken and accomplished a common breakthrough—might be appropriate. Start by submitting an unsolicited abstract to the publications that are most appropriate to the subject. And don’t overlook not-for-profit journals and periodicals from organizations such as the Society for Information Management, the Data Processing Management Association, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Additionally, many IT conferences publish invitations to submit presentation abstracts and proposals.

On the other hand, if you are attempting to, as you said, improve your reputation and marketability, then I think you would be best served by getting yourself quoted or even featured in newspaper and magazine stories written about the kind of things in which your department has excelled. Every IT publication has a list of its editors and their areas of coverage such as enterprise systems, communications and e-commerce. Let them know what you’re doing in your shop that is special. Perhaps you will find yourself highlighted in print or in cybercontent.

Compromising Position

Q: I work in an international company as a senior IS management executive. I moved to this position specifically to get the opportunity to work at a multinational organization after having been a CIO at another company. I have lots of freedom, my views are respected, and I have been able to update myself well and get supporting roles in really challenging issues and projects. The effort has also been to drive the company to the top position in the use of IT.

But I consistently miss being the CIO, as my strength directly relates to performance at that level. How long can I compromise?

A: It sounds like your head and heart are really back in the corner office running your own shop. As I have said in this column before, “To thine own self be true.” I don’t know how long you have been working at your current employer, but as long as you’ve spent at least a couple of years there and can list on your r¿m¿ few significant and successfully completed projects and other accomplishments, go out and get yourself back into a top IT position where you will truly thrive. First try your current company. Are there divisional or business unit CIO positions available from time to time? If these possibilities exist, then prepare and position yourself to selectively evaluate external CIO opportunities, and move on when you find the right one for you. The combination of your prior CIO experience and your newfound international big company experience should play well in today’s robust IT market.

Credit Check

Q: I had a Chapter 7 bankruptcy discharge in 1997. My credit before and after that has been excellent. Since then I have worked for two of the largest banking organizations in the country as an IT systems administrator and analyst. I recently interviewed with a large consumer finance corporation. They were very interested in me and had started the pre-offer background checks. However, they changed course and told the executive search agency that I would not be a “good fit” in that area. They did not reject my candidacy but thought I would be better for some other position that probably did not deal with credit policy (my analysis).

How should I handle this? I obviously did not lie on the application, but at the same time, I did not think it was appropriate to tell them up front.

A: There really isn’t much, if anything, that you can or should do if the bankruptcy in your history is limiting your employment options, especially in an area like credit where it can be a real issue. The bankruptcy is a legitimate factor in a complete evaluation of you as a candidate. The worst part of the scenario you described is that your potential employer was “surprised” by the revelation of a bankruptcy in a background check—rather than hearing about it from you or the recruiter beforehand. It may have been your lack of fortitude, rather than the bankruptcy itself, that turned them off.

Your best bet, as with any potentially negative issue in your background, is to get it onto the table and deal with it up front. First, you will usually score points for your candor and directness. Second, the search consultant will appreciate your not blindsiding her and will work diligently for you in light of your being frank and considerate. Third, the recruiter won’t waste your time and hers promoting you at firms that will only prove to be dead ends because of the bankruptcy. And last, and most important, more often than not you can defuse an anticipated objection by exposing a negative issue, in the context of your candidacy’s overall qualifications, early on in the process.