Be Ready for CIO Turnover: Cultivate a Professional Network

CIO turnover is legendary. To manage your career for the long term, expanding your circle is key.

After five years on the job, CIO Howard Moody saw the writing on the wall. A new CEO had arrived in January. "We had differing opinions," Moody says. And six months later, the CIO was no longer employed at Covance Inc., a $1-billion drug delivery company in Princeton, N.J.

Five months after his departure, Moody is still looking for work.

With typical CIO stints lasting between 18 months and five years, any midmarket CIO could suddenly find himself in Moody's shoes. ExecuNet, a Norwalk, Conn.-based career management and recruiting company, conducted a survey of executives who say that, on average, they change jobs every 2.8 years. Respondents also say that finding a new position takes a minimum of three to four months.

Given such a rapidly revolving door, CIOs should prepare for the possibility of a job search today to avoid the prospect of unemployment tomorrow. This means cultivating a professional network by tapping into a community of colleagues and other C-level peers or establishing a name by speaking at conferences or appearing as an expert source in trade publications. All these connections can lead to your next job.

Recruiters who call you shouldn't be rebuked so easily, either -- even if you're happy with your current employer. They might offer a lifeline if things go south. In fact, recruiters are a key part of an executive's job search arsenal, filling up to 25% of available positions, according to one recruiting firm. And it's always good to keep your resumé tailored to the skills and qualities that companies seek in today's CIO.

Yet because these activities can be time-consuming or even uncomfortable, too often they remain peripheral until IT executives find themselves thinking about a new job or are actively in need of one. Similarly, those currently employed frequently neglect other important aspects of the job search process, such as regularly updating a resumé.

Moody's experience is a case in point.

Because he'd never been out of work before, he paid little heed to cultivating a network during his career. He never joined associations or worked with headhunters. In the past, when headhunters called him, he didn't respond because he viewed them as distractions. "I just didn't see the value of joining [professional] organizations because I didn't have the time, and now that hurts me," Moody says.

Moody's demise at Covance began with the arrival of a new CEO, but there are many reasons for today's high CIO turnover rate. Failed IT projects, or technology that doesn't align well with business needs, have unraveled many a CIO tenure. A merger or acquisition usually costs at least one CIO his job. And as midmarket companies jockey for growth, transforming and repositioning their companies, CIOs can become casualties of a corporate restructuring. In other cases, expectations for the CIO are too high and lead to burnout.

Indeed, the CIO job has always been tenuous. It's grown more so as the demands for business savvy have increased alongside changing technologies. Today's CIO needs a strong grasp of emerging technologies and platforms, such as open source, IT security practices, Web services and new enterprise architectures. He'd better have solid business skills and the ability to communicate effectively with the business side. And, of course, no one is getting any younger.

This was first published in October 2005

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