The CIO job: Ten skills needed to land the top position

SearchCIO.com scoured CIO job postings from large organizations in 15 industries. Here's a rundown of the first five of the top 10 desired talents.

Salesperson, legal eagle, and innovator are but a few of the CIO personas we have highlighted over the years at SearchCIO.com. It seems with every event we attend or every conversation we have with CIOs and the experts advising them, a new responsibility gets tacked onto the CIO role. So, we decided to look at the most recent CIO job ads to see in black and white what some of the largest organizations want from their CIO.

The CIO positions being advertised today are not for the faint of heart or for people who can't solve conflicts fast.

Of the 30 CIO job ads SearchCIO.com looked over during the past month, few named specific technology skills. When a technology skill did appear, it was -- no surprise -- usually related to the cloud, social media or mobile. The ads came from a wide swath of industries -- from health care, entertainment and government to education, retail and technology. Enterprises ranged from a $10 billion cosmetics company to a communications company with 60,000 customers to a $500 million family-owned business. The common denominator among this motley group: Practically every company is seeking very specific domain and industry expertise.

If we had to choose one word to describe the multitude of talents these organizations listed in their CIO job posts, the word chameleon comes to mind. If we had to choose two words, we'd have to say miracle worker. The CIO positions being advertised today are not for the faint of heart or for people who can't solve conflicts fast. Timely was one of the adjectives most used across the job listings. It was even paired with problems described as ambiguous, a word used by three companies in their job ads -- as in this listing from a national manufacturer who is looking for "strong self-management skills in multiple-priority, high-ambiguity situations."

Summing up the most-sought-after CIO job skills was no easy task (many of the job posts required more than 50 skills). We've divided the skills most in demand into 10 CIO personas. The first five are discussed here; the remaining five will appear in a follow-up story.

The vertical virtuoso

Don't have experience in you-name-the-vertical -- banking, health care, insurance, financial services? Then no need to apply. Consider this sampling (our italics) of CIO job ads:

"The successful candidate for this position will possess a minimum of 10 years' experience of functional technology and operations experience in insurance or financial services organizations (or possibly a broader retail focused e-business environment) of genuine scale and complexity." (From a national property-casualty firm)

"Significant experience in an oil, gas or energy setting is desirable, specifically in technology and information systems planning to support business goals." (From a global energy company)

CIOs hired in the last six months seem to be feeling this pressure. At a recent Gartner CIO forum, a CIO at an educational institution told SearchCIO.com that his biggest challenge was figuring out his new culture. He had experience in the financial services industry, but the same tactics he used in that setting were too fast and unnerving for the national online educator (specifically, its teachers) he now worked for. Enterprises don't want you to figure out the nuances of their industry on their time or at their expense.

The CIO job postings we examined went into nitty-gritty skills that were specific not only to the industry, but also to the organization doing the hiring. This posting from a $16 billion software maker is typical:

"To be considered for this position, candidates must have:

  • Fifteen to 20 years experience in information technology, with at least seven to 10 years of management experience leading and managing an infrastructure group in a technology company.
  • They will have led an international IT organization managing mission-critical IT projects on a worldwide basis with direct staff and matrixed staff in regional offices.
  • The ideal candidate will have worked for large hardware and software company with engineering organizations, and will have a track record of handling rapid growth.
  • Background must include complex contract negotiations, vendor management and capacity planning in a fast-growth environment.
  • Will have a strong background with compliance and in the network security area."

The enforcer

Enterprises want someone who not only knows how to develop policies and best practices, but better yet, how to enforce them. This persona calls for defining policies for technology governance and the team the CIO is in charge of, as well as measuring the performance of IT initiatives on a project-to-project basis and against business goals.

A CIO job ad from a national health benefit exchange captured many of these enforcer capabilities:

  • Develop performance measurements and tracking systems to ensure timely implementation of initiatives.
  • Ensure that the annual operating and capital budgets meet the needs of the exchange without exceeding the limits prescribed by the board of directors.
  • Recruit, hire, develop and hold accountable staff that is capable and responsive to the work assigned within challenging timelines while implementing multiple projects.

Another job ad, this one from an automotive wholesaler, called for a CIO who could "maintain project controls that accurately reflect completed work against project plans, schedules and budgets; and ensure user [and] management involvement at appropriate milestones. Direct the development and reporting of performance metrics and direct actions to continuously improve managing the business."

The protector

A PR firm with more than 4,000 employees described this persona as follows: "Ensure IT department retains appropriate certifications and professionally trained skills to best maintain and protect our IT investment."

Protecting digital assets was a big topic in many of the ads. It was applied to intellectual property; to the hardware and software itself; to the recovery of those systems and applications; and to regulations -- as in, "make sure we're not in violation." Here's a sampling of the required skill sets:

  • Ensure that all proprietary data and assets are protected or secured.
  • Ensure critical infrastructure security protection is a top priority.
  • Contribute to the definition of the organizational risk profile, and ensure that all IT risks are highlighted and agreed actions are addressed in a timely manner.
  • Ensure the security, privacy and regulatory compliance of all systems, including mobile and portable technology.
  • Design, implement and support SOX [Sarbanes-Oxley Act] compliance requirements.

The translator

The stereotype is that the CIO is someone who walks into a room and starts talking about servers and software, instead of how the technology can help a given business unit achieve a desired business outcome. Well, the stereotype won't get hired today: That was made abundantly clear in CIO job ads for someone who could act as a technology translator -- or liaison -- for IT staff, frontline employees, executive management, and external customers and partners. Here are some examples:

"A committed team player with exceptional interpersonal, problem-solving and communication skills, especially as it relates to translating technical language to lay audiences." (From a health benefits exchange)

"Ability to communicate with and understand the needs of nontechnical internal clients." (From a company with more than 900 stores and outlets)

"Advise the senior leadership team on the appropriate use of information technology to meet the business plan. Develop related IT strategies and long-term plans." (From a family-owned national manufacturer)

"Demonstrable expertise in facilitating the process of clarifying organizational strategies and translating them into appropriate technology applications." (From a national health care provider)

"Excellent oral and written communication skills, including the ability to explain technology solutions in business terms, establish rapport and persuade others." (From a national logistics company)

The negotiator

In its broadest sense, this CIO persona is about vendor management. Forming "strategic" vendor and partnership relationships, resolving conflicts with third parties, hammering out contracts for the best prices and service levels, and heading up the procurement process -- all these attributes come under this heading. Timely is a word that makes many appearances, as in "the timely delivery of business projects." Here's a rundown of requirements:

"Build strategic partnerships with vendors to maximize investment and provide timely delivery of initiatives … on time, on budget and in support of major business projects." (From an international provider of language learning products)

"Lead a consistent approach to hardware and software procurement to best control costs and fulfill business objectives -- proactively participate in the procurement process and negotiate with vendors on behalf of company to ensure cost-effective purchasing decisions." (From a global PR firm)

"Negotiating new external IT contracts with support from procurement and legal teams." (From an international insurance organization)

"Oversee maintenance contracts with the service providers and ensure the orderly upgrade and maintenance of the systems." (From a statewide government retirement agency)

"Background must include complex contract negotiations, vendor management and capacity planning in a fast-growth environment." (From a global telco company)

"Develop, implement and manage strategies related to outsourcing versus in-house provisioning of services and skills." (From a religious institution)

In the next installment, SearchCIO.com continues its top 10 countdown with a look at the CIO as mentor and visionary.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Christina Torode, News Director.

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