Expert Advice: Career Counsel

Expert Advice: Career Counsel

Looking for executive IT career advice? The following are excerpts from our ongoing Web site column "Executive Career Counselor," in which our resident expert Mark Polansky answers questions about senior-level career advancement, change, education, strategy and more. Polansky is a managing director and member of the advanced technology practice in the New York City office of Korn/Ferry International, one of the world's leading executive search firms. To read more questions and answers or to ask Mark for advice on your own career visit

-The Editors

Dear Mark: I have 28 years in the IT field serving in a variety of GM/director-level positions in software development, MIS and consultative sales. In addition, I have two years' experience in sales and marketing, and more recently I have moved into product marketing for a software development company.

I feel that my diversified IT experience, excellent and current technology expertise and solid business background-I started a phone company in the early '80s to compete with AT&T and took it public two years later-are the ideal qualifications for a CIO. However, in my career search over the past year, I've had no success in getting a job interview.

What are your thoughts on the ideal background for a CIO? What can I do to position myself better? My current salary is $120,000 with stock and bonus.

Dear Diversified Exec: You certainly seem to have a broad and varied background in technology. Nonetheless, software development, MIS, consultative sales and product marketing are very different career experiences with very different skill sets. Additionally, your experience starting a phone company will not map very well to the competency requirements of the typical corporate CIO.

Instead, stress your experience in applying technology to meet the strategic and tactical needs of the corporate enterprises where you have worked as well as at your client organisations. Alternatively, the brief description of your background sounds ideal for a chief operating officer role in an entrepreneurial technology venture or perhaps in a consulting company.

Dear Mark: In order to acquire a management position in the IT area, would you need to come up with a special resume?

Dear Resume Writer: I assume from your inquiry that either you are not yet in the ranks of IT management but are looking to move up the food chain, or you are now an IT manager writing a management resume for the first time. In either case, there are two major considerations for crafting an appropriate management-oriented curriculum vitae.

First, your document needs to reflect your view of the world at 10,000 or 20,000 feet rather than at sea level. Be sure to stress the top- and bottom-line impact resulting from your group's or department's projects and your collaborative efforts with your user community to leverage technology for the good of the business function. Second, I strongly suggest that you emphasise your skills and accomplishments in the areas of planning, leadership, staff development, creative thinking and problem solving that make you a good manager of people, projects and resources. Technology, specifically the alphabet-laden jargon of technology, should be addressed in this context only.

Dear Mark: I am a CIO for a small retail chain with $120 million in sales. I currently have an employment contract that stipulates conditions for termination and severance. How common is that for CIOs and what is the best way to approach the subject with potential employers?

Dear Retail CIO: Estimates of the number of CIOs who have contracts versus those who don't vary widely, but most CIOs don't. Contracts are more common in larger companies and in highly competitive industries. CIOs without contracts are sometimes offered contracts as a reward for a job well done and as a retention tool. While a contract brings with it certain security and protection, there may be a price to pay in terms of being locked in should that perfect opportunity or midlife crisis come along, and there frequently is a noncompete provision in return for the perks and predictability of a contract. As they say, be careful what you wish for.

Dear Mark: I am an IT professional with almost 30 years' experience in higher education. By May 2000, I will have earned my doctorate degree. I have been a faculty member, an academic department head and a dean in addition to my role as an IT/MIS director. I have worked for four colleges in my career as well as one year as a project manager for a higher education technology vendor. I have heavy systems, programming and IT management experience as well as strong managerial skills.

Since 1998, I have been the executive director for IT at a midsize college, and I report to the president of the college.

Although I am a member of the President's Cabinet with four vice presidents, I have not been able to convince him to give me the VP title. I have been told that I can use the title executive director for IT/CIO. Should I continue to pursue the VP title? Should I drop the executive director portion of the title and use only CIO? Do I have a chance for a higher-level position outside of academia?

Dear Academic CIO: Today the head of information technology at large academic institutions usually reports to the provost and has the title of associate provost. As you did not mention a provost in your letter, is one of the four vice presidents also the provost? Either way, you are reporting to the highest possible level, you have a seat at the leadership roundtable with four VPs, and you have the very acceptable title of executive director for IT/CIO. I wouldn't quibble for the VP title since it's the other stuff (like the President's Cabinet) that matters more. And I wouldn't give up any part of the compound title. As far as moving into industry goes, it doesn't sound like that's who you are, but I would want to know more about you and your aspirations in order to comment further.

Dear Mark: With nine years of IT experience that includes programming, network administration and project management, I have spent the last three years based in the Midwest, travelling internationally to support the member companies of my employer, a large insurance company. Because I enjoy the challenges of working in other countries, I sought to further my international management skills so that I could assume greater worldwide responsibilities, be of more value to this organisation and eventually be considered for a CIO position.

I presented my employer with the idea of an alternate workweek while attending an executive master's of international management program. Part of the tuition would be covered by the company's standard tuition reimbursement program, and I asked the company to fund the remaining tuition in exchange for a commitment to work a certain number of years. I even offered to sign a promissory note to cover the expense in the event I departed before my commitment of time was up.

In short, the company said no. I was told I was valued in the position that I was in and there were no opportunities to move from a technical role into a management role (even though my job included setting the IT direction and managing a team of IT resources in each of six member companies, albeit small companies of 50 to 100 employees).

Was I out of line to ask for such an opportunity? I've since left the company in hopes of finding an organisation that would support such an endeavour and provide the international challenge I seek. Do such organisations exist?

Dear World Traveller: I think the idea of furthering your education and orienting your skills and experience internationally is an excellent one. Given the globalisation of both traditional and e-business today, there are many US companies that will greatly appreciate what you bring them in project management skills and international experience, plus your strong desire to remain international in scope and do the travel that comes with it.

I suspect the problem was that the alternate workweek scenario meant your employer would lose half of your time; I expect this will be an even bigger problem for a brand-new employer that doesn't know you. Your choices then would be to put off work for a while and do the education program full time, or shift to a more weekend-oriented executive MBA program, which usually requires alternate Fridays and a week or two during the year. Then seek out those top Fortune 500 companies that have significant overseas operations, business units and revenue, and go for it!

The Web-based Executive Career Counselor column is edited by Web Research Editor Kathleen Kotwica. She can be reached at

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