by Beverly Lieberman, Gerry McNamara and Mark Polansky

Questions about the Skills and Experiences Necessary to Become CIO

Nov 01, 200310 mins

Q: I am looking to move my career more into the technology arena with the ultimate goal of becoming a CIO. I have an MBA from a top-20 school, international experience, 10 years in mid- and back-office operations at a top investment bank, and I have run a Web development team. Most recently, I acted as global technology coordinator for our division, managing a $12 million budget and developing our technology strategy. Is it unrealistic for me to consider such a career move without more experience or education? I am considering getting a master’s in MIS. Do you think this would make any difference?

A: Your combination of education and operating experience sounds like an excellent foundation upon which to continue progressing toward your career goal of becoming a CIO. Assuming that your most recent job refers to infrastructure planning and deployment, then the holes in your background seem to be in business applications development and in data center operations and networking.

Regarding the former, look for an opportunity to leverage your knowledge of mid- and back-office operations through management of significant business solutions projects. Regarding the latter, the good news is that this part of the CIO portfolio of responsibilities is most often excused as a prerequisite and most easily delegated or outsourced. With some meaningful systems development and delivery experience under your belt, you can selectively entertain CIO opportunities. While doing so, also seek out a rotational tour of duty in IT operations as a means to more fully prepare for a top IT role. And always seek out assignments along the way that will give you experience in IT governance and organizational topics. Lastly, guessing that your undergraduate studies were not in a technical discipline, getting a master’s degree in MIS could complement your B-school degree quite nicely if the curriculum you are considering is focused on IT business issues and not simply on technology.

-Mark Polansky, managing director and member of the advanced technology practice at Korn/Ferry International

Executive Forecast?

Q: I have more than 25 years’ experience in the IT field, with degrees in electrical engineering and computer science. At the end of this year, I will have business management and information resource management degrees. I have held positions from network engineer to director of national engineering. Currently, I am consulting the federal government on homeland security projects, serving as a project manager and senior research scientist.

I have what everyone says is an excellent r¿m¿ith a diverse background. However, I have not managed to make proper contacts leading to interviews, even though I am listed with more than 15 recruiters and on most major job boards. I am looking for a CTO or vice president of technology position. What is the forecast for executive-level positions during the next year? How can I position myself for better exposure?

A: At this point, the forecast for the next year for CTO-type roles is anybody’s guess, but from what we are seeing, the demand is likely to stay somewhat soft. When the economy picks up and we see three to four months in a row of strong indicators that the world marketplace is on the rebound, then I suspect that corporations will begin to plan for additional initiatives that have been put on the back burner. The hiring phase, then, will lag the economy’s growth by about three to six months.

In order to get more exposure and job interviews, you must put in several hours a day of dedicated time and effort. You need to network with friends and acquaintances. Get in front of some company executives, and conduct information interviews to find out what they perceive will be in demand for technologists in their companies when there is a rebound. Also be sure your r¿m¿s clear and accomplishment-oriented—that it speaks to your ability to work successfully in a variety of roles and highlights cases where you achieved bottom-line results for your employers.

It is also a good idea to contact half a dozen very good executive recruiters. However, cold calling does not work very well in this job market. The best way to find these recruiters is to ask senior human resources executives who they use and like. Also ask friends and colleagues whom they have worked with and respect. See if you can use a friend or colleague’s name to help you get access to the senior recruiter in a search firm. Utilizing your network can have a multiplying effect that takes place once you get the ball rolling, and you will find that this is often the way to get you your best job-search results.

Getting in front of an employer requires that you excel in a job interview. You might want to ask a friend to critique your r¿m¿nd listen to you describe your accomplishments. Some executives even hire a professional coach to ensure that they are maximizing their skills. HR folks are often a good resource for knowing good coaches.

-Beverly Lieberman, president of Halbrecht Lieberman Associates

Presenting My Case

Q: I am a 22-year IT veteran with a range of different experiences. Most recently, I have gone full time as an independent consultant, specializing in IT management and project management. I have been with my primary client as its top IT adviser for nearly six years. Now that I have my master’s in IT management, I would like to move into a little more challenging assignment, eventually aiming for a CIO position with a midsize company.

For most of my career (all but the past two years), I have held multiple, simultaneous positions. I understand that a chronological r¿m¿s best for this type of job search. How do I present my employment history in a logical format that doesn’t take too much space? Or is it better to tough it out with the functional format in my case?

A: In your situation, my recommendation would be to create both a functional and chronological r¿m¿Recruiters typically review r¿m¿looking for a match between a client need and candidate skills. Recruiters look for functional positions, industry experience and leadership capability, and the functional r¿m¿elps highlight what you have accomplished in a crisp, easy-to-read fashion. Once you have captured readers’ attention with your functional experience and strengths, they will be motivated to learn more about what you have accomplished.

Your chronological r¿m¿hould be complete but concise. Where you have worked on several projects concurrently, indicate so. Make sure it is easy to read, though, with no gaps or time lapses between projects or assignments. In addition, since you have been working in a consultant capacity, I recommend you prepare a list of references with names, titles, addresses and phone numbers that you should make available to interested parties.

You have clearly accomplished a great deal in your long career. I would lead with the functional r¿m¿Interested parties will read on and seek you when they see a match.

-Gerry McNamara, partner of Heidrick & Struggles

What’s My Future?

Q: I have postgraduate training in computer science and have 13 years of widely mixed experience in software development, training, project management and quality assurance. I also have more than three years of entrepreneurship experience in these fields. Currently, I am working in presales and sales support for an IT services organization. What are my future growth prospects, and how should I shape my career going forward?

A: In order to decide on a future direction for your career, you need to consider what you enjoy most about the kind of work you have been doing and the type of work environment that suits you best. It seems that, should you continue on your current track, an option is to work for technology products or services companies. These types of roles include leading product development initiatives as well as marketing and business development. Positions that tend to offer the biggest financial rewards are those in sales. The senior-most roles in vendor organizations tend to be filled by executives who have marketing and customer management backgrounds.

Another option is to pursue management roles in large corporations. These include leading large-scale systems integration projects, such as ERP implementations, and are often multi-year projects and can include global responsibilities. Having global experience at a senior project and management level will position your career to be tracking a CIO role or equivalent.


Unhappy Now

Q: I took a CIO position at a smaller company because I needed a job. However, my heart is not in it. As a professional, I am doing my best to support the team and the company. I want to be fair to the company and myself. Should I continue until I find a position more aligned with my career aspirations, or should I just walk away now to totally focus on new opportunities?

A: The old adage is quite true: “It is easier to find a job when you are employed.” Being unemployed while job hunting always leaves some room for doubt: Was there a problem? Was she performing well? This is especially true in a market such as this one in which many poorer performers have been let go under the umbrella of cost reduction.

Since you said that you are doing your professional best under the circumstances, then it would seem that you are being as fair as possible to your employer. In fairness to yourself, you should be keeping your eyes and ears open to the market, and selectively making contact with top recruiters to let them know that you are available to be considered for larger-scale opportunities.

Time is on your side as the job market continues to slowly improve and your tenure at this “interim” position increases, thereby mitigating an early departure. Most of all, being employed but looking tells prospective employers that the choice to move on is yours alone.


Musical Chairs

Q: I have worked for the same boss for 12 years, and my career has progressed well under his direction. However, my boss has no aspirations to move up to the next level. My next promotion would be to his level. I am considering breaking my loyalty to him to move up. I would like to do it within the same organization. How should I approach the CIO with this request?

A: The simple answer to your question is to approach your CIO directly—as soon as possible. Your ambition to ascend to the level of organizational recognition and responsibility currently enjoyed by your boss would not be interpreted as disloyal by any thinking person. Remember, you have given as well as received direction from your superior during a 12-year period of continuous employment. That’s the very definition of loyalty. But now your loyalty—your allegiance and responsibility—is to yourself and your career. If your boss is a true friend, mentor and supporter, he will encourage and applaud your continuing success, and should prove to be a valued peer in the future.