John Edwards
Contributing writer

7 signs it’s time for a new CIO job

Oct 04, 2022
CareersCIOIT Leadership

All good things must come to an end. For some CIOs, the decision to terminate an employment relationship should occur sooner rather than later.

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Credit: aydinmutlu / Getty Images

Parting may be a sweet sorrow, but it can be inevitable when a CIO detects a tell-tale sign that a quick and clean employment departure represents the best course of action.

Most CIOs at one time or another have found themselves working at an enterprise that has seriously altered course, lost its focus, neglected competitiveness, or changed in some other significantly detrimental way. When that happens, it’s probably time to wave goodbye.

How can a CIO know for sure when it’s time to take their career elsewhere? Consider the following seven warning signs.

1. Fear and loathing

You wake up bright and early. The sun is shining, birds are singing, and an intense pang of dread grips your stomach. The mere thought of heading into the office makes your skin crawl. There are many reasons why a CIO might feel this way.

“It may have started with some minor irritation at a business decision or disagreements with enterprise leaders, teams, silos, or internal business matters,” says Tracy-Lynn Reid, CIO research practice lead at Info-Tech Research Group. More ominously, the enterprise may have suddenly started engaging in shady business practices or entered into a market that you find personally repulsive.

“The key sign that the CIO has reached a point where they should seriously examine the idea of moving on is that feeling of dread,” Reid says. It’s time to wake up.

2. Deep, unreasonable budget cuts

Bad news. The IT budget has just been slashed by colleagues who have no idea how their decision will damage essential services. Their misguided action will impede your ability to execute the roadmap you carefully planned to keep the enterprise competitive in an increasingly challenging business enviornent. Even worse, when the chickens come home to roost, you-know-who will probably get the blame.

Technology budgets have become a larger portion of the average organization’s spend and have, therefore, become an easy target for a new CEO or CFO looking to increase short-term profitability, says Keith Sims, a recruiter at executive search firm Sanford Rose Associates.

Every CIO needs to develop their current IT strategy and roadmap in close consultation with business colleagues. In the event a negative budget change is proposed, the CIO should be asking tough questions and paying close attention to the replies. If the responses are unacceptable, it’s time to move on.

3. Management resistance

Many CIOs decide to toss in the towel after spending months, perhaps even years, battling with C-level colleagues. New initiatives and strategies are proposed and consistently rejected. Colleagues either fail to offer alternative approaches or, worse yet, propose methods that are technologically or financially impossible. As the battle continues, management may begin listening to outside consultants and advisors, effectively knocking the CIO out of the loop.

Over time, the enterprise begins falling behind competitors that are taking advantage of new technologies and methodologies. Eventually, the beleaguered CIO realizes that the situation will never improve, tosses in the towel, and begins looking for a more amenable employer.

4. Management change

Whenever an enterprise is acquired by another organization, it’s virtually certain that new leadership will scrutinize the existing IT roadmap. It will take a great deal of convincing to assure the new owner that the current roadmap will meet their business strategy, says Steven Swan, CEO of Swan Associates, a Sanford Rose Associates-affiliated recruitment firm. “The risk is that the business will switch directions, causing your roadmap to no longer be relevant.”

Even if the enterprise is acquired by an organization whose CIO is more or less aligned with your roadmap, the newly combined C-suite may not pay much attention to what you say. “Not being able to be effective, at best, and at worst being considered redundant, is not a place you want to be,” Swan warns. All things considered, it’s probably a good time to begin look for a new employer.

5. Diminished innovation

For a CIO who joined an enterprise believing that the organization was committed to innovation, it’s disappointing to watch management become increasingly complacent.

“They’ve stopped innovating; they’ve become stagnant, and the CIO feels like they’re no longer making a difference in the growth of their organization,” says Kimberley Tyler-Smith, a former McKinsey & Co. analyst, currently strategist at career tech service company Resume Worded. “This can lead to frustration and unhappiness, making it difficult for the IT professional to stay motivated and engaged in their work.”

6. Sheer boredom

Sometimes, a CIO becomes an innocent victim of success. This is especially true for a leader who was hired with the mandate to revitalize a struggling IT organization. Now, after that goal has been achieved, there’s not much left to do but to maintain operational efficiency. The thrill is gone.

While many CIOs are perfectly content to lead a well-oiled organization, some IT leaders thrive on conquering challenges. If you’re one of these intrepid individuals, it’s time to begin looking for fresh success opportunities.

7. Limited growth potential

Top CIOs realize that they need to keep pace with multiple technology, security, business, and management trends. “They also have to master the art of the sale and delivering financial value propositions, making board room presentations, and avoiding public or PR pitfalls,” Sims says. Falling behind the curve simply isn’t an option.

CIO’s should be given the opportunity to expand their skills with professional training related to public speaking, leadership, communication, and sales, Sims says. “If your enterprise isn’t investing in executive-level professional training, it’s time to invest in yourself and start considering a move to a company that invests in you,” he advises.

Making the right move

CIOs should ensure they’re making the right move by considering all options carefully before accepting any job offer, Tyler-Smith suggests. “They should always consider whether or not the new opportunity will provide them with what they’re looking for — more opportunities for growth, challenges, responsibilities to learn from, and an environment where they feel valued as an employee and leader.”

Once a CIO decides that it’s time to go, it really is time to go. “Unless something drastically changes, the longer you stay in an environment that’s causing the sense of dread, the worse it will be for yourself, others around you, and the organization,” Reid says.

Typically, once a CIO knows that it’s time to exit, the number of reasons for staying has diminished to zero. “At that point, there’s a greater risk of saying or doing something inappropriate that could have a lasting negative impact on your corporate and professional reputation/brand that may follow you after your inevitable departure,” she explains.