Career Counsel

Career Counsel

Big Fish Seeking Small Pond

Q: I have had what I consider to be a progressive career with two large Canadian companies (30,000 and 50,000 employees). This has provided me great experience leading both infrastructure and application development teams. However, I would like to switch to a smaller company in the United States to further my career goals. How do I position that on a résumé, while at the same time indicating current areas of responsibility ($40 million annual budget) and demonstrating that I will not be bored, which is typically expressed as a concern?

A: The resistance that you have encountered is very natural. When a candidate expresses interest in changing a fundamental career characteristic-be it geography, industry, scope of responsibility or whatever-a flag goes up in the mind of a search consultant or prospective employer that says: risk factor. This kind of issue should not be addressed directly in a résumé but rather in your cover letters and personal conversations with interviewers. Having said that, there is a simple but effective way that your résumé can help. Highlight examples of your experience and accomplishments where you worked closely with smaller, intra-entrepreneurial business units within the bigger organisation, and worked one-on-one with business unit management to help them achieve their goals. Then refer to these examples in your letters and interviews as reasons why you are motivated to work in a smaller environment-where you can be more intimately involved in what's happening and have a more direct impact. And you can also invoke the "bigger fish, smaller pond" clich.

Selling Yourself

Q: I have recently been promoted twice in one year-from senior systems engineer to manager to director. For the better part of last year I have worked 16-hour days, involved chiefly in the business operations of our company. But the overall experience has been a tough, long haul, especially when it came to informing our company's users about the benefits of technology. However, more opportunity is available because we have recently merged our international and domestic operations into one combined unit.

There has never been a CIO in our company. I currently report to the CFO, who is a very wise and experienced woman. She recognizes my hard work and long hours and appreciates that I was able to get our corporate headquarters up to Y2K compliancy. I have also introduced a million-dollar client to our agency and have another waiting in the wings. How do you think I should best bring up the idea of my becoming CIO? Although it has been a relatively short time, I believe that I am the most qualified candidate.

A: First, sell the CIO concept and then sell yourself. If, as you say, your CFO is truly a wise and experienced woman, you should be able to convince her that your company would benefit from having a CIO. Have her read the appropriate literature, such as CIO and selected Fortune and Business Week articles, or attend industry events and speak to the CFOs at other companies who have successfully engaged a CIO. You can also show her studies on the subject such as Korn/Ferry International's "The Changing Role of the Chief Information Officer" (reviewed at Then, use her as your ally to get the message out to management-that IT can produce cost-saving operating efficiencies as well as competitive advantage through speed to market, better sales information and superior client knowledge. Lastly, suggest that you are the right person for the job for the reasons you have cited.

Moving Mistake

Q: I recently left a director-level position with the US government to pursue opportunities in the private sector. However, I may have made a strategic error. I accepted a position as a senior IT architect at a company that is very manual-labor oriented but appeared to be poised to make a strategic technical leap to increase profit margins and gain competitive advantage. I intended to provide the vision and impetus for that leap and ride the wave to the top.

Unfortunately, the company's senior management is from the old school and has failed to see the strategic advantage that being an industry leader and innovator in information technology brings. Although they all agree that an 800 per cent return on investment is pretty good, they won't take the plunge. Should I hang in there and continue to try to drive this company forward, or should I search elsewhere? Also, how can I make up lost ground when I stepped down from a director position to my current one?

A: It sounds like you should cut your losses and move on. That the company hired you at all is quite curious and probably contains some very important interviewing lessons about due diligence on both sides. Did the hiring superior-presumably your boss-tell you that the company's transition was on the agenda? And did you state your interests clearly at the interview? Did you interview, more than just a courtesy hello, with your superior's boss? As to the "lost ground" issue, it's hard to tell from your question, but you may have made a necessary trade-off of level and title versus the commercial experience you will gain. If not, then perhaps you have undersold yourself. The best thing to do is get some objective advice from industry-based IT executives or search consultants.

Just Do It, or Just Say No

Q: I'm an IT consultant who has worked for nearly five years with clients like Compaq, IBM and HP. I've also started a corporation over the internet for joint development, and during the last two years I have received great response from the internet community. I'm also talking to a few investors about this project. Jumping into this venture full time will take me right from consultant to the top management position. I've thought about it over and over again, and every time I think of taking a permanent senior position, my inner self puts on the brakes and directs me to work on the other project. Is this the right thing to do?

A: Follow your heart and "to thine own self be true." You seem to have a real entrepreneurial passion for your idea, and it would be a shame if you spent the rest of your life looking back and wondering, What if? But be prepared-only a very small per centage of startups become viable and sustainable enterprises, and most entrepreneurs underestimate the capital and time requirements imperative to launching a new business. Make sure you have the personal resources and fortitude to make it through the process, and go for it.

Leaving the Ivory Tower

Q: How can an existing CIO (myself) further explore CIO job opportunities? I manage a sizable IT department ($28 million budget with 300 FTEs) but have reached the top. I work for a large university, but I would like to explore my value outside of higher education. I am very good at what I do, but I'm not aware of how to market it. Do you know how to contact executive search firms?

A: As a CIO in academia looking to make the switch into industry, the first step is to craft a great two-page business résumé-not a10-page curriculum vitae. Summarise your credentials but leave off the myriad citations of publications, lectures, presentations and grants, and instead emphasize your enterprise-oriented accomplishments. Get some trusted business executives, both IT and non-IT, to review it.

Second, keep your eye on the important public sources of position announcements and advertisements-but remember that only a fraction of CIO and IT director openings are advertised.

Third, make contact with a select group of search consultants who are well known for their work recruiting chief information officers. There are many directories of executive recruiters, for example. The one available from Kennedy Information ( is particularly helpful because it is indexed by industry and functional specialties as well as by geography. You will find it in the reference section of most good public libraries, or purchase a copy-it's expensive but indispensable to an organised search.


Q: I have 12 years of IT experience, an MBA from a good school, three completed SAP projects, and I can't get ahead. I made the move to a Fortune 50 company a year ago. I was promised a management position in the office of the CIO but was relegated to staff status as the SAP project I was to lead was abandoned just as I came on board. I stayed at my last jobs six years, three years and two years. My job evaluation has been very positive, but I'm managing development projects-not people and process. In my last position, I had a staff of 12 to 20 working for me. I'm sending out résumés but have received no response. Is it too soon to leave my job?

A: As a general rule, it is never too soon to change employers if you are truly unhappy and have no internal options available to you-life is too short and the market is too hot to be miserable. Having said that, you may be jumping the gun. I simply must believe that a progressive Fortune 50 company will always have a need for strong, accomplished IT managers.

So I suggest you try to sit down with your managers and ask them for the truth about your current and future roles and opportunities within the organisation. And then think this situation through very carefully. As far as your résumé mail campaign is concerned, your readers are simply reacting to the short tenure of your current position. If you decide to leave, a mailed résumé alone won't be able to overcome the first impression of a job-hopper.

Hey, What About Me, Boss?

Q: I am a first-level manager with a company that emphasizes current technology in support of its business in the service industry. I have an MBA with an emphasis in IT management. I went to graduate school not only to complement my technical background with management skills and training, but I also went back to school to prepare myself for advancement to senior management.

I feel that I am underutilised in my current position and that my services to this company can be of great value. I also feel that there is potential for career advancement with this company. What do you suggest, and how should I professionally strategize this without telling my manager how I feel about my current position?

A: You are on the right track but traveling in the wrong direction. You must sit down with your current superior and/or other company management and discuss with them the contribution that you feel prepared to make. You also need to talk with them about your career goals and your future. Hopefully you will receive their candid assessment of your ability to make that contribution and of your promotion potential at the company.

If you like what you hear, stick to it and make it happen. If you are disappointed, and don't like what they tell you, then get a second opinion-and even a third and fourth opinion-from trusted third parties (not your friends or relatives) and be prepared to take the necessary actions to get to where you want to be-through personal and professional change and growth.

Mark Polansky is a managing director and member of the advanced technology practice in the New York City office of Korn/Ferry International. The web-based Executive Career Counselor column is edited by Web Research Editor Kathleen Kotwica. She can be reached at

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