By: On: January 10, 2016 In: Michael Doonan's Blog Comments: 0

In my last post, we discussed the dos and don’ts of executive resume writing. In speaking with senior executives, I find that one of the hardest resumes to write is that of the Chief Information Officer (CIO). Portraying the strategic importance of a CIO in a resume is no easy task, but as we move from a product focused market to a model focused on service consumption (SaaS, IaaS, OTT, subscription-based, etc.) the CIO is quickly becoming one of the most strategic roles within any organization. Ignore people who think LOB and Chief Digital Officers are rendering CIOs obsolete. That’s not true at all, but the role is definitely evolving.

If done well, a CIO has the power to dramatically differentiate a company’s offering in the market.

If done poorly, a CIO can be the single point of failure within an organization and, at best, the anchor dragging a company into obscurity and commoditization.

I believe firmly in three to five years, the CIO will be one of the most respected “C’s” in the C Suite. Unfortunately, IT has historically not attracted the most strategic executives so the talent pool can be dodgy.

Here’s how to look past the resume and make sure you hire the absolute best CIO to help lead your company into the future….

  1. Avoid the “flash” – I can’t tell you how many CEOs call me to do a CIO search the day after returning from DreamForce. The senior IT leaders on stage paint amazing pictures of the future and many CEOs leave saying “I want one of those.” However, ask yourself: Is that vision a reality within my company? Does it align with my short and long term goals? Can my organization absorb that amount of change?
  1. Avoid the 2 year CIO or CIO consultant – Remember that any transformative initiative takes time, particularly in IT. The signature trait of a “flash” CIO are the two year stints on a resume. Chances are they can paint a great vision, but for various reasons are unable to accomplish the task at hand. This could be the result of over promising and over evangelizing or an indicator of a CIO’s inability to evaluate a company’s capacity to absorb change.
  1. People first – To the dismay of a few Stanford PhD students, humans have not been automated entirely out of existence (yet). Long time client and friend Jon Stevens, CIO of CDW likes to say that, “a CIO is all about people, process and technology… in that order.” Think about it this way, if you use technology to automate a poor process then you are actually doing more harm than good.
  1. It’s not all sexy – Some of the best CIOs, whether they will admit it or not, are great “project managers” at heart. Project management can be a four letter word in some executive circles, but remember great CIOs are not spending their time inventing the next great widget. They are using their powers of persuasion and the tools at their disposal to bring both people and complex, transformative projects from point A to point B.
  1. If it looks, talks or smells like a CIO, run! – CIOs are business executives that happen to have a core competency in IT. If you walk into the room and the person oozes IT they will not gain credibility with business peers and will have a difficult time being successful. If the candidate cannot explain a complex technical or business problem in plain English, then they are an IT VP or Director and not a CIO. Keep your eye on the prize and move on.
  1. Start with the VP Sales and Marketing – This may seem counter-intuitive, but when I start a CIO search I immediately reach out to the best heads of Sales, Marketing, Product and Engineering I know. I ask them, “Who are the CIOs you have worked with in the past who have played a proactive role in your business success?” Take their answers into serious consideration and focus your time on the individuals they identify.
  1. Data – Drill in on how the CIO has used data to add value to a business. The technology component of data (extraction, analytics, etc.) is important but more important is the CIO’s ability to use data to change the behavior of business leaders. For example, a CIO can use backend data to break apart the selling process and go-to-market strategy to identify areas of friction. Then they can proactively work with the head of sales to create processes and tools to remove friction and increase sales velocity. Start with the business problem you are trying to solve
  1. Culture fit – I’ve had many clients claim CIO candidates are not a culture fit with existing business leaders. When pushed, they admit the future CIO’s peers are type A personalities. Remember, the CIO function is a service function, here to serve the needs of business leaders (the type As). The CIO’s greatest strength should be empathy for the business. At the same time…
  1. Service function does not mean bully magnet – A strong CIO is seen as a business leader and partner and should be sought after by business peers. Strategic IT is not a reactionary role. Dig into your candidates in interviews to see how proactive they were in helping their business leaders. Ask what new initiatives they can bring to the table for the management teams. A candidate who can do this will gain credibility quickly within a new business and be seen as a true partner to the rest of the company.
  1. The Kissinger factor – A great CIO is a good diplomat – they bridge the past with the future. Some of the best I have seen have had to come into an existing, often troubled environment with an embedded culture and way of doing business. They openly appreciate the company’s past and paint a vision for the future to include the wants and needs of all parties. They tell the company, “Today we are at point A, and in 5 years we will be at point B. Here are the incremental steps we will take to get to B, the potential challenges ahead, and why we all need to be at B.”


SPMB Partner Mike Doonan specializes in C- and VP-level executive searches for publicly-traded, Private Equity and Venture backed companies in technology, healthcare and business/consumer services. He is known for recruiting the top CIO and senior IT leaders to companies in the middle of massive transformations, including Comcast, CDW, Telstra, Informatica and many others. Contact Mike by email at mike@spmb.com, connect on LinkedIn or follow him on twitter @DoonanSearchGuy.

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