While CIOs can find themselves in operational roles when they were hired for a strategic role, one of the keys to being empowered to deliver success in an organisation is making sure it is the right fit.
Andrew Mitchell, director of technology and innovation at Lander and Rogers, and CIO Executive Council member, recently joined the firm after four years as chief information officer at law firm, Gilbert + Tobin. Having worked across several sectors, including legal, telecommunications, consulting, consumer goods and pharmaceutical, Mitchell has had his fair share of job interviews.
CIO Australia spoke to Mitchell about the key questions to ask during the interview process, important lessons he has learned, and he gives some advice on how to make the next move if you’re a CIO looking for change.
What are some of the positive and negative signs during the interview process which can tell you if a company is suited to you or not?
[A positive sign is] the interview becomes more of a chat; it becomes more of a general discussion or even a discussion of your personal background. Additionally, if [the interviewers] are interested they often solicit information asking questions on how you would resolve a particular problem or issue. Most importantly, the question you must ask yourself is: Can I work for him/her and would I do anything for them to make them a success?
The negative signs are the opposite — do you feel comfortable around them? Can I work for this person? I have walked out of interviews knowing straight away that it was not the place for me. It's a gut feeling that I think comes with experience.
Finally, see being interviewed by many people as a positive. It generally means they are trying to find the right fit for them also. This is a senior role, at the end of the day.
What are some of the key questions you should ask during the interview?
What exposure will I have to the board? Will I be able to present our case/strategy to the board as required? What is the board currently not getting today that they would like to be more aware of? What is the decision making process for high/medium/low expenditure?
How can you tell if a company will be the type that gives you the tools you need for success?
This is a hard one. You can ask questions like: What support will I have to make change? What do you see as the likely challenges in implementing change? When major projects are being prepared, is it easy or difficult to have key stakeholders involved in the decision making process? What is the firm’s culture like?
You can ask about a company’s work culture and research the company online, but what are some other effective ways of learning about a company’s work culture?
By asking questions like: Can you give me examples of how your work culture is seen as contributing to individuals and to the team? If you actually get the opportunity to meet some of the staff during the interview process, then this is a great opportunity to ask such questions.
What type of questions can you ask to discover if a role is going to be strategic or operational?
What is the organisation’s growth strategy? What are some of the major issues today restricting the organisation? Where does the organisation see technology today and in the future?
What are some invaluable lessons you have learned during your career?
- Listen, listen and listen.
- Don't think that what worked at your last organisation will work in the new place. Use your problem solving skills to pick the appropriate pieces and alter strategies as needed.
- Meet with your new team regularly and solicit feedback. Empower them to make decisions.
- Prepare and present a 100-day plan. Don't just share it with your superiors — make sure your team has 100 per cent commitment to the execution process and they understand what you expect from them.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
- Be visible and make sure everyone knows you quickly.
- Bring your team along with for the ride — without them you cannot achieve anything.
How do you know when you have reached your limit of potential at a company?
This is different for everybody. I generally work on the premise that if I cannot contribute any further to an organisation or my career learning in the current role has slowed, then it's maybe time to rethink your employment.
What advice would you give to a CIO looking to make their next move?
Ensure your key network is aware as they may be able to assist. Be very clear why you want to change and what industry(s) you want to target. It's a very competitive market so make sure you understand your personal brand and your particular areas of skill as a CIO, i.e. transformational versus turnaround versus operational versus start-up versus generalist. Finally, do a lot of research.
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