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Career Counsel

Career Counsel

Smooth Landing

I've spent the last five years in public sector IT policy, the last two at the international level, in areas such as e-commerce, EDI, integrated services, public-key infrastructure, information management and electronic democracy. I'm completing my MBA and currently undertaking a "sabbatical" human resources management implementation to fine-tune my practical ERP project management skills. How long should I wait before I leap into the corporate world, and where should I aim to land?

You have a rather unique and highly qualified background within your area of focus, and I'm not sure that you need to wait at all. In this extremely robust and rich market for qualified professionals, you will be exposed to lots of different types of opportunities in your search, from established global multinational corporations to startup dotcoms - and everything in between.

Having said that, you might consider consulting, at least short term. Your background lends itself to leveraging your specialised knowledge and expertise over a multiclient base rather than at a single enterprise. And it's a great way to gain a variety of experiences in a range of industries and businesses so that you can decide for yourself where you want to land.

Exit Stage Left

I'm a director of a public company and was, until a recent reorganisation, in line to be the company's next CIO or CTO. I have been interviewing and have offers for vice president-level positions, although now it appears management at my company may be changing again. Should I stay, or should I go?

No pat answer here, but I would consider staying. If the reversal of the original reorganisation that took you out of your succession position was an error that is now being corrected and it was not initially directed at you specifically, then I think you will be OK to stay put. If the current change is really a move to keep you from leaving, then it simply amounts to a counteroffer, and you should head for the exit quickly because counters never - yes, never - work out.

Fast Forward

I am 35 years old and work for an international consulting company. I have spent some 10 years in various corporate functions, and for the last two years I have served abroad in a senior management position directing part of the country operation and 250 consulting staff. I do not have a university education, and most of my practical experience is IT (ERP) consulting related.

I am now looking for the most valuable executive education I can attain but perhaps not a lengthy, two-year MBA degree. There are many out there, but what would you suggest for someone in my position, and which one would look best on my résumé? I would like to choose a program that will help move me forward into the new economy and prepare me for more senior positions.

I think you may have the cart before the horse. I don't know how you might pursue an MBA of any type - whether full-time, part-time, executive MBA or even a distance-learning program - without first earning a bachelor's degree. Check into a few of the undergraduate programs, local or remote, that give credit for life experience to determine if a bachelor's degree is a realistically achievable goal.

If not, then your best bet to expand your knowledge base and increase your educational credentials is through the various two- and three-day weekend and full-week seminars that all of the top business schools run. Most of them have developed e-business curricula and have always offered a variety of management and leaderships tracts that should serve your stated purposes.

The Best Of What's Around

I have about 10 years of IT experience ranging from software development to presales engineering. After receiving my MBA from a great school, I joined a top-tier management consulting company best known for business strategy as an associate. I am very passionate about the computer and Internet industry and don't want to be apart from it for too long. Therefore, I would like to move to an IT-intensive organisation and be on an executive track. What types of positions should I target, and what would be the next best position to maximise my career potential?

The obvious choice here is to head over to the technology industry practice within the top management consultancy you have joined. It's the best of all possible worlds for you at this point. It will combine your business training and technical background, and keep you involved in the industry we all love. It will provide you with the continued exposure, professional development and broad-based experience uniquely gained in strategic consulting. And it will save you from making a job change now. You will either happily climb the ladder toward partnership in the company, or sooner or later you will see a situation, a company or a market niche you will find compelling. Or perhaps one of your clients will simply make you an offer you can't refuse. Win-win!

Secret Of My Success

I have recently been promoted to CTO of a small startup company. What kinds of things should I do to ensure I am successful at this opportunity?

Without reference to your company's specific products, services and business model, universal critical success factors are as follows:

Strategically align technology with the company's vision and its business plan, goals and objectives. Regardless of technical and operational distractions, stay focused on your strategic role as a senior manager of the company.

Leverage technology to create new and enhanced revenue opportunities through new products and services, new markets and new channels of distribution.

Leverage technology for competitive advantage by implementing world-class processes for delivery of your company's products, services and customer care.

Continuing Education

I am an IT director at an advertising and marketing company. While I report directly to the CEO and am part of the management team, I am not a vice president or officer of the company. I am looking to identify specific training programs that will expand my knowledge so that I can be recognised as a valuable part of the strategic decision-making process of the company. Some of the classes that I have been looking into have been focused on leadership, business growth and finance.

On the whole, I am extremely pleased with what I am doing and the opportunities in front of me. However, I want to make sure that I am prepared, and that I prove to others that I have the experience and training I need to move from the computer room to the boardroom. What to do?

You are certainly thinking correctly about continuing your efforts to learn, grow and challenge your range of professional knowledge and skills, especially in areas like leadership, business management and finance, which will complement your technical expertise. This column contains previous questions and answers centred on the value of an MBA and the various options for pursuing an MBA both on and off campus. Getting that ticket punched is a sure-fire credibility getter and a multifaceted asset that will last your entire career.

Short of that, seek out weekend and weeklong courses and programs offered at the leading business schools. These courses tend to be intense but highly worthwhile.

Retaining I.T. Staffers

I have an IT staff of about 30 employees ranging from help-desk staff to programmers, network engineers and telecommunications personnel. I'm struggling to find pertinent data regarding salaries for their positions and unique credentials. Turnover is not a big problem. However, I would like to be proactive and ensure that I am being competitive without overpaying.

While at first this question does not seem to fit the pattern of typical Career Counsellor column questions, it is actually a very crucial one. In general, and especially in today's extremely tight labour market, hiring and retaining highly qualified staff is a critical success factor for all managers. Factor in the critical shortage of IT and knowledge workers - widely reported to be somewhere between 300,000 and 600,000 empty chairs - and the problem is particularly acute for IT leaders. I strongly urge you to keep your eye on compensation and do what you must to ensure that your employer understands the challenge of IT staffing and retention and is willing and able to be competitive, and creative when necessary, such that you are able to attract and hold on to the staff you need to deliver against your strategic plan. There are several sources for this type of data).

Having said that, it is also essential that you stay focused on the survey-proven fact that salary is almost never the top reason for someone going to or leaving a particular position. More important issues such as interesting and challenging work, personal recognition for a job well done, a positive and enjoyable work environment, and good colleagues to learn from and work with all rank higher than compensation as career motivators. Recruiters have an old saying that goes, "People change jobs for money but not because of money."

[Editor's note: Salary survey links can be found in CIO.com's IT Professional Research Center at www.cio.com/forums/itcareer/job_boards.html.] Too Much Enthusiasm I'm a young executive aspiring to be CIO. I'm already in a good position to move in that direction as I manage our company's IT infrastructure. I'm very enthusiastic, and I work hard, put in lots of hours and produce high-quality work. The current CIO has many years of experience on me. However, I sometimes think that he is threatened by my enthusiasm. How do I handle this type of situation?

This situation requires careful and thoughtful reflection and communication. Your perception of the CIO feeling threatened by your enthusiasm may or may not be accurate. I suggest that a chat with him to discuss your professional development might be in order. In that context you can first solicit his opinion of your future promotability.

Second, you can assure him that while your long-term objective is to run your own shop, over the near to midterm your only agenda is to do your very best and to have the results of your efforts reflect well on the IT department and on your boss as well as yourself. At the same time, however, he must be aware that you are looking to learn and grow, and to expand the range of your skills and experience beyond infrastructure management. Ask him to help you draft a plan of action in which you will have opportunities to be engaged in projects that will achieve your objective of professional progress. Listen to and watch his reaction carefully. If you receive honest and positive reinforcement, then you're OK. Otherwise, ask him directly if there is a problem and be prepared to move on if he does not support your career development.

Mark Polansky is a managing director and member of the advanced technology practice of Korn/Ferry International in New York City. He is also the chairman of the Greater New York Chapter of the Society for Information Management.

The Web-based Executive Career Counsellor column is edited by Web Research Editor Kathleen Kotwica. She can be reached at kkotwica@cio.com.

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