by CIO Staff

How to Make a Career Switch and Become CIO

Nov 15, 20015 mins

Switching Tracks

Q: I realize that you’ve been asked many versions of the CIO career-track question in the past. My particular track has included senior loan officer and treasury manager for a bank. Currently, I’m the senior sales executive for a Web-based software company. I have an MBA, and I’m CCM (certified cash manager) certified.

While salary and bonuses are very adequate, I’ve developed a keen interest in information technology and would like to make moves toward that field. What would you suggest that I gravitate toward careerwise in an effort to move more closely to a CIO type of position?

A: Your goal of becoming a CIO represents the pinnacle of a career in information technology, which in your case dictates a career switch?and starting over, more or less, in both position and compensation. Your banking and financial expertise is not generally relevant to an IT career, and your software sales experience simply has not prepared you for what lies ahead of you as an IT professional.

I recommend going back to school, at least on a part-time basis. If you already have your bachelor’s degree, give serious consideration to an executive MBA with an IT concentration: These programs are usually accomplished on alternating weekends plus a week or two during the summer, and there are also several very worthwhile distance learning MBA programs available via the Internet. In either case, acquire enough programming exposure to get by, and focus your curriculum on a balanced combination of related IT management and business topics.

When you start your IT job search, think about financial institutions and corporations where your newly acquired IT knowledge, coupled with your prior experience in the cash management and treasury functions, can give you an opportunity to make up for lost time.

Focusing Efforts

Q: I am a senior applications developer with good experience in all areas of software project management and heaviest involvement on the development side. Also, I will soon graduate from a top 25 business school with a master’s degree in management of information systems. This is an MBA-type program tailored to the needs of aspiring CTOs or Big Five IT consultants, with particular emphasis on e-business and general information technology management issues.

Since there are no career advancement nor promotion opportunities at my current company in which I could use my newly acquired knowledge, I am considering my next move toward the end goal?a CTO or CIO position. Where should I focus my search efforts?

A: First things first?do you want to be a CIO or a CTO? On the corporate side, where technology is applied to the information and transaction processing needs of the enterprise’s day-to-day operations, it is the CIO who holds top-line responsibility for all strategic and tactical facets of IT. The CTO?who usually reports to the CIO?is tasked with evaluation, acquisition, deployment and sometimes the support of new technologies and the development and implementation of new technology-based IT initiatives.

Given your current position as a senior applications developer, coupled with an MBA-like master’s degree focused on general IT management issues, I would conclude that you intend to pursue the CIO career path. As a future CIO you should be looking for opportunities now that will provide you with project and staff management experience, and as much exposure to business problem solving and collaboration with the business unit staff as possible.

Executive Summary

Q: I am applying for a CIO position with a large company in Silicon Valley. They have asked that I submit an executive summary along with my rŽsumŽ. How does this differ from a comprehensive cover letter describing objective, interest, accomplishments and differentiators? Is there any recommended format for an executive summary?

A: I have never seen a recommended format for an executive summary, a document that is generally used as a higher-level alternative to a rŽsumŽ. Think in terms of a professional biography that might be used to introduce you as a conference speaker.

An executive summary is written in narrative prose rather than the formatted structure of a rŽsumŽ. It should cover the highlights of your career with most of the detail omitted, plus your education, important certifications, memberships and affiliations, and any significant honors and recognition?all while sticking to a one-page limit. Extracurricular, vocational and community activities are sometimes included, but personal and family information is a definite no-no in an employment situation. For an example, refer to my executive summary at

MBA Pursuit

Q: I feel that there is a significant level of commitment required in pursuing an MBA degree. If actively searching for a CIO, CTO or vice president of information technology position, is publicizing the MBA-in-progress detrimental to the search for job candidates?

A: You have asked about a classic riddle. And as always, I vote for full disclosure. Whether any particular interviewer perceives your pursuit of a desirable educational credential as a potential distraction is not nearly as significant as the fact that all interviewers will react negatively to your concealing your MBA studies.

I recommend putting it discreetly on your rŽsumŽ so that the issue is on the table and can break the deal before the first date. The key point here is your track record of successes and accomplishments, and the impact that you can create at your next employer. The thinking rŽsumŽ reader and interviewer will reason that if you have done well elsewhere, then you can continue to handle both your vocational and academic challenges while working for him. In an interview make it perfectly clear, however, that success on the job comes first and foremost.

There will always be a chance to take a course over, but once a project fails or a business opportunity is gone it may be gone forever?and you don’t want to be gone with it.