News Stay informed about the latest enterprise technology news and product updates.

CIO recruiters put money on 'hybrid execs'

You know you need business experience to make it as a big-league CIO. But first, you have to be in the big leagues.

If you want to play with the big boys, you've got to have what it takes to play in the big leagues.

The problem is you've worked in IT for the better part of your career. You don't have an MBA -- not even a lick of business experience under your belt. Your résumé tells prospective employers that you are a technology person and have never been anything but.

No need to despair. Experts say there is a way to the enterprise, but it's not quick, or simple, or without risk.

Unless, you've been holed up in some server room trying to get that five-year ERP project under way, you know that landing a job with a large organization means you'll have to have business expertise.

A new report from Gartner Inc. shows that Global 1,000 companies are looking for CIOs with non-IT business experience on their résumés. The report suggests aspiring midmarket CIOs start hitting the pavement for jobs that will give them that management experience.

But Martha Heller, an executive recruiter at Z Resource Group Inc. in Westborough, Mass., recommends instead of looking for non-IT jobs within their current companies or with other midmarket firms, CIOs try to find job with larger companies.

Ditching a CIO job to take a more business-oriented position in a company of the same size won't be enough to qualify for a CIO spot in a bigger company, Heller said. In fact, it could be a complete waste of time.

"One of the things typically more important than a deep knowledge of a business [is] global reach [and] scale," Heller said. "I think a CIO of a midmarket company who wants to be the CIO of a larger company needs to focus on scope and scale. If they run off and get an MBA, that's not going to get them to a larger organization."

Any "incremental steps" up within a large company will leave a midmarket CIO with the ability to think, manage and work at a much higher level. That growth is what hiring executives want to see, Heller said. In fact, Heller said she has placed dozens of midmarket CIOs in jobs with less glamorous titles at enterprise companies.

Art degree a plus?

Once you're in the big leagues, think less about degrees and start working on job experience.

Gartner researchers interviewed the heads of IT recruiting from four major search firms for their report. Collectively, the four firms recruit about half of all Global 1,000 CIOs each year, according to Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner.

CEOs and other hiring executives aren't looking for education specifics. Moreover, the hiring executives admitted that while an MBA is nice, it's not a must. Even a computer science or similar degree isn't a necessary element.

The hiring committee could not care less whether that person comes from the same industry.

Martha Heller, executive recruiter, Z Resource Group Inc.

"There are still some clients who first state the requirement for computer science backgrounds and engineering backgrounds, and then you show them successful CIOs who had arts degrees, music degrees and everything under the sun," Kelvin Thompson, a managing partner at recruiter Heidrick & Struggles International Inc. in San Francisco, told Gartner researchers. "Then they realize they're actually limiting themselves to a certain course."

What hiring executives do want are "hybrid executives -- those who are well-educated and well-trained in their areas of expertise, but who are also experts in the business of the business," wrote Ken McGee, a Gartner vice president and fellow.

Currently, Heller is conducting a search for a CIO at a transportation company. "The hiring committee could not care less whether that person comes from the same industry," she said. "What they want is somebody who gets the complexity."

Top midmarket IT employees certainly want to move up. A survey last year found that 22% of midmarket IT leaders aspired to move up in their IT organization, 21% aspired to move up in their overall organization, and 18% hoped to move to a larger company. Only 23% planned on staying in their current roles.

As with any career move, there is a measured amount of risk. A long-term plan will be required and there is the possibility of being stranded in a diminished role, albeit in an enterprise company. Midmarket CIOs could jump to middle management positions in enterprise companies, only to find themselves stuck with no way to keep moving up. Or their companies could be subjected to mergers and jobs could be cut.

That risk can be minimized, Heller said, by moving to a company inclined to hire from within and invest in technology. But you have to do your homework.

"Those are the kind of questions and due diligence you need to do with any role," she said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email

Dig Deeper on Small-business IT strategy

Start the conversation

Send me notifications when other members comment.

Please create a username to comment.