by CIO Staff

Career Advice from Korn Ferry: Moving Up and Out

Jul 15, 20016 mins

Q: I have been in the call center industry for six years starting in operations, then moving to training and quality. Recently, I took a position as a business analyst and now have been promoted to IT program director for a dotcom company. I do not have a degree or certification, but I have a successful track record of achieved objectives.

What should I do to further climb the corporate ladder?

A: Quite honestly, I don’t have any clue as to what an IT program director is or does. But let’s take an educated guess that, following your last position as a business analyst, your current role also has a business and technology alignment and application focus. If so, you have indeed made a very significant career shift from the operational side of things in the call center, to a more strategic and business-oriented position today. If that’s the case, then I advise you, as I have many times in this column, in the direction of learning more about your company’s business plan and its products, services and competitors. Spend time with managers and staff in operating units and support groups to truly develop an understanding of your company’s business. You might even consider a rotational assignment in a profit center that really interests you. And surely you must give very serious consideration to completing your baccalaureate degree and even continuing on to an MBA. There are several universities that award college-level credit for job-related experience, and many that offer a variety of flexible part-time options and distance learning via the Internet. Yahoo has a fairly complete listing of these options under its Education heading.

Balancing Act

Q: I’m 33 years old, have seven years of IT experience as a developer and project manager, and already make a six-figure salary. My career goals include eventually becoming the CEO by way of the CIO/CTO position. My undergraduate degree is in computer science, and I’m working on two master’s degrees?an MBA and a master’s of science in finance.

Since a CIO-level position is probably not my next position, am I spending too much time looking into the future? Should I be spending more time on the technical issues, which have led me to where I am now? Is there a proper balance between the two?

A: You are doing just fine. To have such a clear and articulate vision of your career goal?and to be able to prepare for it early?is a gift. During the course of an IT career, the balance of the technical and the nontechnical (business and leadership) content is a blend that starts out nearly 100 percent technical and winds up nearly 100 percent nontechnical.

Your current role as project manager, while it will indeed vary from company to company and from project to project, should be about 50-50. So you are at the point of equal emphasis and certainly heading more strongly toward the softer side of your skill set. The MBA is right on target, and the MS in finance could be a real help in ultimately running a business or a corporation. Pursuing those degrees at the same time says that you should focus your MBA on topics other than finance, such as marketing, e-commerce and management.

Next Move, Please

Q: I have more than 15 years of management experience in product development, quality assurance, program and product management, and release and tools engineering. Recently I was asked to take on the role of director of IT management while maintaining my engineering management responsibilities. I have bachelor’s of science and master’s of science degrees in information systems and have managed a small IS support arm for engineering at a number of companies. My long-term career interest is in running a product business unit?providing management leadership in defining and driving product strategy, creating and managing product road maps, and building the necessary organizational and process competencies to ship quality products on time.

I’m not sure what my next move should be: Make the move back to product development, stay with IT and gain a greater appreciation for the inner working of business systems and infrastructure, or something else entirely?

A: Your introduction states that you have been asked to take on responsibility for IT along with your existing accountabilities in engineering. That’s a positive no-brainer, since you already have a very appropriate educational background as well as real experience managing IT on a small scale. Taking on additional duties is always a great idea if you can see yourself succeeding on both fronts simultaneously. You will be recognized as motivated and upward bound, while having the opportunity to broaden your IT credentials with?as you correctly noted?expanded knowledge of business systems and infrastructure.

However, the close of your question implies an either/or choice. If your stated goal is actually head of R&D or product development, then stay where you are. But if your ultimate goal is larger than that, I would recommend getting the IT experience, again for the opportunity to broaden your experience base. Also look for exposure to finance, marketing, sales, distribution and so on in preparation for a possible big move to general management in the future.

Consulting Future?

Q: I have two technical undergraduate degrees and an MBA. Through my work experience, I am well versed in business analysis for the chemical processing industries and their use of ERP. I have performed the designer role in product development.

However, in a couple of years I would like to pursue a consulting role in e-business and start my own company. What areas of training or positions would allow me to build a knowledge base for my objectives?

A: I believe that you have already answered your question?consulting. This career option is always a recommended one for the opportunity to gain a great deal of varied experience in a compressed period of time. This is due to the variety of client environments, both good and not so good, that one may encounter?plus the deadline and timeline pressures that all successful consultants and consultancies face. That will build your experience base and reference project list quickly. More important, if you want to own and run a consultancy, what better way to prepare than to work for a competitor first and learn how they do it. Look for a top-notch consultancy that will value and leverage your existing industry and functional expertise while affording you access to e-business projects as well.