CIOs love a good analogy: an IT infrastructure is like a
house; business is like a football game; an IT project (too
often) is like a patient bleeding on the table. With that in
mind, I thought I’d apply a new analogy to an old
question: Just how does one go about conducting a proactive,
precise, effective job search?
The answer: Think of the process as something akin to
bringing a high-quality product to market.
In this scenario, you, of course, are the product. You have
been in product development for a number of years, and while
you’ve enjoyed some trial runs in the market, you are now
ready for a full-blown launch. So what does it take to go to
Step One: Define your brand.
As any good product manager will tell you, you cannot go to
market before you truly understand your brand. What are your
attributes? Are you a turnaround CIO? A technology guru? A
financial services expert? A startup CIO?
Once you understand what qualities you embody (beyond simply
CIO of ABC Corp.) and once you can articulate those qualities
succinctly and effectively, you are ready to move to Step
Step Two: Define your market.
Barring, perhaps, Coca-Cola, there are few companies that can
claim their product appeals to consumers in every demographic.
Most companies will define a particular market for their
product: women over 40, small businesses in the Northeast,
wealthy couples who like to dress up their dogs.
So I am always amazed by how often CIOs intent on marketing
themselves skip this essential step. When I ask them to
describe their dream job they often neglect to specify
industry, geography or even the job function they want. The
more specific you can get about your goal—a midsize
retail company in the Midwest—the more proactive you can
be about building a pipeline of leads to get you there.
Step Three: Develop your marketing
Let me say just a few words about your résumé:
Limit it to three pages. Include a one-line description of each
company you list. Emphasize the business impact of your
technology achievements. Avoid listing specific
technologies—unless you are going for a CTO or chief
architect role. Mention accomplishments in team building and
leadership development. Include metrics: size of staff, budget
and annual revenues. Pay attention to formatting: keep the font
crisp and easy on the eyes. Finally, put dates on your
education regardless of how long ago you received your
Step Four: Build the pipeline.
Now that you know your market and you have your collateral,
you’re ready to build your pipeline of prospects. Take
the general market definition you’ve developed and make a
list of every company that qualifies. Once you’ve got
that list, chances are, you know someone who knows someone who
knows a decision-maker in every company, so pick up the phone
and start calling your contacts.
Be sure to include your vendors in an early round of calls,
suggests Scott Hicar, who recently left his role as CIO at
Maxtor to become CIO of Solectron.
“Your best salespeople are generally
well-connected,” he says. “They typically have
better networks than you do and for them, there is nothing
better they can do than find an old customer a new
If you are short on contacts in your dream industry or
location, there is always the cold call. Dan Sheehan, former
CIO of ADVO, used this tactic when he was conducting his last
“I used a few databases and got a list of all of the
companies that were over $1 billion in annual revenues in New
England,” he says. “Then I went down the list and
cold called the top HR person in each company and inquired
about senior IT positions.”
That tactic landed Sheehan the CIO role at Dunkin’
Brands. “They told me they were looking and they put me
in touch with the recruiter who was doing the search,” he
When job hunting at the VP or C level, be sure to include
executive recruiters on your list of contacts, suggests
“When you are working and employed, recruiters call
you all the time,” says Sheehan. “Every time a
recruiter called me, I would update my Rolodex with notes about
who called me and for what. When it was my turn to look, I
brought up all of those contacts and called them with specifics
about what we had talked about before.”
All of his diligence through the years allowed Sheehan to
tap into a network of recruiters exactly at the moment when he
needed to utilize it.
If you haven’t been quite as diligent as that,
you’ll need to rely on your contacts to introduce you to
recruiters. But as in golf, it is all in the follow-through.
And speaking of which…
Step Five: Follow through.
When Mark Goetze, former director of enterprise applications at
ITT Industries, conducted his search for a new job, he
contacted several recruiters who had been referred to him by a
former colleague. After an initial contact, Goetze stayed
on their radar screen. “Recruiters essentially have this
huge pile of résumés on their desk,” he
says. “The only way to stay on top of the pile is regular
However, you want to stop short of being a burden to the
recruiter, cautions Goetze, who recently landed a role as VP of
IT for the medication delivery division of Baxter
International. “But you want to follow up every two
weeks,” he says. “It’s all about staying
Step Six: Close the deal.
Let me offer a few words about conducting a good interview.
Obviously, you need to study up on the company. Sheehan, for
instance, talked with Dunkin’ Brands’ franchisees
about their IT needs before his interview. But during the
interview, here are some thoughts you should keep in mind:
- Talk more about why you want the new job than about why
you want to leave the old one.
- Never bring up money.
- Prepare five major accomplishments to discuss—in
detail, with bullet points—when asked.
- Make eye contact with everyone in the room.
- Listen as much as you talk.
- Prepare a ton of really smart questions.
And if you don’t get the
job, proceed immediately to…
Step Seven: Convince yourself that you
never really wanted it in the first place.
Martha Heller is managing director of the IT Leadership
Practice at ZRG, an executive recruiting firm based in Boston.
Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.