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Top three CIO career tips: What are executive headhunters looking for?

CIO responsibilities can make it difficult to work on career improvement. These CIO career tips will help attract executive headhunters and offers for top executive jobs.

As 2011 draws to a close, many CIOs and related executives are assessing their performance for the year. This is usually followed by a self-assessment process, where you ask yourself, "How can I improve my performance? How can I increase my standing within my company? How can I look attractive to executive headhunters? What are they looking for when they fill top executive jobs at other companies?" 

There are three main career tips for CIOs to consider when thinking about the IT roles of the future. They must consider self-improvement, additional courses, certifications or degrees, and making themselves more valuable to executive headhunters.

Jonathan Hassell
Jonathan Hassell

Understand business processes and general operations. Clearly, CIO responsibilities include identifying their own business processes and procedures, as well as strategizing on how IT can help to improve them. You can increase your value to the organization by focusing self-improvement efforts on familiarizing yourself with your own business, its strengths and weaknesses, and opportunities and threats. In particular, focus on project management and resource coordination to deliver your assigned projects on time and within budget.
Further up, top executive jobs -- as well as executive headhunters in other companies -- look for the ability to brainstorm new initiatives. Demonstrate your ability to excel in CIO responsibilities by developing plans and executing a launch process on those initiatives. Then follow through by monitoring their success and adjusting their progress through to completion. You'll not only ramp up the benefits in your current role, but these efforts will also enhance your personal bag of tricks for top executive jobs.

Enhance your communication skills. The basis of any relationship is making sure that your peers are hearing what you say, and in turn, that what you're hearing is what your peers are actually saying. This becomes even more critical in top executive jobs but unfortunately, technology is a jargon-filled industry with a relentless drive for upgrades and replacements. A successful CIO career requires clearly articulating the value of processes currently in place and future idealized enhancements that require executive buy-in and investment. You have to be able to distill very technical, complex IT problems and solutions into nontechnical language so other C-suite leaders can understand and approve your recommended changes.

In addition, communication with your internal and external business partners around the world becomes critical. Language studies, customs consultations and even immersion are career boosters when looking to navigate an increasingly borderless world economy.

Engage in strategic planning.  Last but not least is the ability to think clearly and strategically -- not just in your own "bubble," but also about the business itself. Develop a holistic view of the entire industry ecosystem. Follow and study world trends, financial markets, industry developments and your business' position to set yourself apart from other executives.

Just remember -- when you're rushing to meet CIO responsibilities and deadlines while facilitating the umpteenth project management brainstorming session, your career will stagnate without proactive measures. While the economic outlook remains bleak, experts predict a worker shortage in the next five years, which means positions will be opening in the upper echelons of companies, including top executive jobs and C-suite positions. Make time for courses and certifications -- doing so will support and allow you to execute larger projects and investments over a longer period of time. It's very important to get the job done that's in front of you right at this moment, but you should still be considering your next role at every stage of your CIO career. Always be thinking about the next thing that will help you stay competitive on the job marketplace.

Jonathan Hassell is president of The Sun Valley Group Inc. He's an author, consultant and speaker in Charlotte, N.C. Hassell's books include RADIUS, Learning Windows Server 2003, Hardening Windows and, most recently, Windows Vista: Beyond the Manual.  Write to him at

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