Q: I was laid off from an IT position almost one year ago. My unemployment insurance has run out, and I am being forced to take a low-level job that is not in IT. Do you think this will hurt my IT career?
A: Taking a job outside of IT can be risky unless it is in another business function that will teach you valuable skills. If the position is in planning, finance, marketing or sales, this can only enhance your overall business knowledge. If it is really just a way to make a living, then do it and keep your r¿m¿ut there with good recruiters and keep up your networking. Obviously this is a difficult economic period, but hopefully your off-track job will be only an interim step. Most employers will respect that you did what you did to pay the bills. This might be a good time to take some business or IT courses that enhance your value as an IT professional.
A Road Less Taken?
Q: I am a CIO/CTO-level executive. I came out of a corporate environment and went to a dotcom in 2000. The dotcom lost its funding, and less than a year after I joined it, I was offered a new CIO/CTO role at another dotcom, which I accepted. Now almost two years later, I find my job tedious and boring, as the big challenge of bringing this dotcom to market is over and our maintenance and continued development is somewhat hampered by economic conditions and slower than expected market conversion. I have therefore been thinking about either finding another job or getting an MBA. Rather than looking like I lack commitment by jumping from one role to another in a short space of time, I’m inclined to do the second option. I am 35 years old. When is it too late to get an MBA? Is there another way to avoid a career-killer situation such as this?
A: I think getting an MBA is a valuable effort, and one is never too old to become more educated. At your age and stage in career development, this is an excellent time. You seem to imply wanting to go to school full time. That would be quite a luxury. Why not go part time, nights or weekends? I know it takes longer, but it’s also good to stay employed and fresh in the job market.
I, too, share your concern about hopping to another job. Is there a way for you to lessen your boredom at your current employer? Can you offer to take on a project or some additional responsibility beyond your area of expertise? Is it possible for you to lend a hand with a customer management effort? If you want to broaden your experience by getting an MBA, why not try with your current employer to broaden your experience base?
If you feel you must make a job change, however, perhaps it is time to consider more established companies with growing product lines. While no company is guaranteed to be stable, at least the Fortune 500 companies tend to offer more experiences than those of small dotcoms. Another option is to consider joining a consulting or professional services company. Whatever you do, think long and hard about your overall professional goals and try to find a job opportunity that will keep your interest and offer you continuity for the next three to five years. You don’t want to tarnish a good reputation by being perceived as a job-hopper.
Short but Sweet
Q: The company I work for was acquired this year, and I plan to leave after the integration. This is my first CIO role, and I have been at this post for about a year. How will prospective employers view my short but effective stint as CIO?
A: Employers will look at what you have accomplished as a CIO and will also consider what you were doing prior to the role. Given your limited experience and the soft market today, don’t become fixated on seeking only CIO positions. Concentrate on finding a position that enables you to continue your career growth and exposes you to new challenges. For example, if you do not yet have global experience, apply to international companies to gain exposure with projects that require travel and allow you to work with a diverse workforce. There is a strong demand for CIOs who have multicultural experiences.
Take the Lead
Q: I work for a manufacturing company as an IT manager with a small, motivated team of six people. My responsibilities include managing technology systems and maintaining and developing the ERP systems. I have been asked to show more “leadership” in my position and would welcome any ideas on how to grow in this area.
A: First, find out from your boss and some of the business managers what their goals and objectives are. Does your company have an IT plan that supports the business strategy? If it does, determine whether you directly support the goals of your company. If not, begin a process to facilitate such an endeavor.
Find out whether your boss wants you to broaden your skills in order for you to contribute to more areas of the company. Look for opportunities that involve e-business initiatives, streamlining costs, or issues with vendors that need to be resolved or improved.
I strongly suggest you discuss with your boss her views of what defines good leadership. For example, leaders tend to have a vision of where they need to go, and that translates into energetic selling skills that attract others to achieve common goals.
A good reference on leadership attributes is Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. There are good leadership courses and seminars available through the American Management Association (www.amanet.org) and the Society for Information Management (www.simnet.org). [Editor’s note: See the Leadership and CIO Executive Research Centers for resources; go to www.cio.com/leadership and www.cio.com/executive.]
Getting the Right Coach
Q: I am currently conducting research to find a reputable career coach. Can you offer tips on recommended search criteria, cost structure and time lines? I am interested in reevaluating my skill set and career path.
A: The best way to find a coach is through word of mouth. Coaching accreditation is still in the infancy stage, and to date, there is no recognized accreditation program.
However, the International Coach Federation (www.coachfederation.org) is trying to become a governing body and may offer a place to start. Most important, try to find a coach who has relevant business background and real-life experiences that enable him to relate to you and your goals.
A few other options: Contact major outplacement companies that employ executive coaches. Although those organizations usually work with a corporation and not with an individual, they often hire “contractor” executive coaches who are available to individuals. The cost varies but can be in the range of $100 to $250 per hour. You could also contact the HR departments of a few major companies in your area. Ask whether they utilize the services of executive coaches, and if they do, ask if they would be willing to give you the name of the coach or company.
As for a time line, the length of an engagement depends on what the individual wants and needs. Often executive coaching lasts for at least three months, but I know some executives who have had ongoing coaching for a year or more.