by Martha Heller

How to Package Yourself for a New CIO Job

May 01, 20076 mins
CIORelationship Building

Why it pays to treat an IT executive job search like a product launch

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 market?

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 Two.

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 materials.

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 degree.

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 home.”

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 job search.

“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 says.

When job hunting at the VP or C level, be sure to include executive recruiters on your list of contacts, suggests Sheehan.

“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 contact.”

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 current.”

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