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Career builder advice for CIOs

CIOs looking for career builder advice will want to know how to get a promotion, raise or even a new job. CIOs need to meet performance metrics and sharpen their skills to advance their careers, career consultants say.

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Senior executives "want a seasoned, savvy, business-focused IT leader who is respected as a business peer first and a technology expert second," said Steven Kendrick, a consultant at Chicago-based executive search firm Spencer Stuart.

IT consultants offer the following career builder advice to CIOs looking to sharpen their skills:

  • IT leaders who can use technology to improve the business and can implement projects that work, are on time and within budget, said Mark M. Schor, senior vice president of executive services at Right Management Consultants, a Philadelphia-based career management and human resources consulting firm.

  • Companies in growth mode need CIOs who can implement large-scale applications, such as enterprise resource planning tools, and can recruit top IT talent, said Renee Baker Arrington, vice president of executive search firm Pearson Partners International Inc. in Dallas.

    "You have to make sure you have the right people in the right place and have the people who can handle issues as they become more complex," she said.

  • Companies in merger or acquisition situations need CIOs who can manage integration projects and help perform due diligence on potential company acquisitions, Arrington said. If companies are in a turnaround situation, CIOs must articulate an IT vision to help their businesses grow. They have to appraise their IT staffs and potentially overhaul them if the current personnel are not up to snuff, she said. They must also repair relationships that may have gotten off track internally within the company or externally with customers.

    "If there's been a series of failed projects, you lose credibility," she explained.

  • The ability to lead and motivate their IT departments, said Mike Miller, CIO at National Print Group Inc., a 400-employee firm in Chatanooga, Tenn. CIOs must cultivate a good team environment by listening to employees' ideas, ensuring a good work-life balance by having normal work hours, and offering training opportunities, he said.

    CIOs need to demand a good work ethic from their IT staffs, said Rod Sagarsee, CIO of Brinks Hofer Gilson & Lione, a Chicago law firm with 360 employees. To bolster morale, CIOs should promote from within when managerial positions open up, he added.

    "Make sure people know they are appreciated, so they are happy and want to work hard for you," Miller said.

Popular misconceptions

A common mistake by CIOs is not realizing the importance of communication and interpersonal skills, Kendrick said. "If they can't build relationships internally, they will fail."

Another mistake is feeling they need to install cutting-edge technologies. "CIOs should be judged by whether a technology solves a problem, and not whether it's on the bleeding edge," Miller said.

While it's important to know the latest technology trends, some CIOs try to stay current with the latest certifications and tech skills when they don't have to, Schor said. "If the CIO concentrates on broader business and leadership skills, they can hire people who can stay up on the technology."

Career builder tips

CIOs can take their careers down many paths: They can stay where they are, become CIO at larger companies or move up the corporate ladder to other C-level positions, such as chief executive officer or chief operating officer. Here are five tips for CIOs to reach their goals:

  • Identify your weaknesses, then improve your skills. Continue to educate yourself by reading books and attending classes. CIOs, for example, need to learn to manage personnel, control a budget and expand their general knowledge of technology to include all hardware and software platforms, Sagarsee said.

  • Read IT publications, attend tech conferences and regularly talk with other CIOs to get fresh ideas and keep up with the latest trends, Miller said.

  • Get a mentor inside or outside your organization. "You are never too old to be coached," Schor said.

  • Serve on a board. Being on the board of another corporation or nonprofit organization helps develop and strengthen leadership skills. "It's a great way to gain exposure, learn about finances and help you demonstrate your broader business skills," Schor said. While on the board, ask someone for feedback on your performance so you can improve yourself, Arrington adds.

  • Continue to network. "Build connections. Consider making presentations in conferences and publishing articles," Arrington said. "Get your name out there. Develop relationships with people in the recruiting business. When you are considering a career move, you can turn to people for advice."
Wylie Wong is a freelance technology writer based in Phoenix.

This was first published in October 2006

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