Tech & Work

CIO learns tough lessons from job search

Finding a new CIO gig in the current job market isn't easy, but it's not impossible. It requires patience, diligence, and looking in some unusual places, says one tech leader on the job hunt.


Tom Loane wasn't surprised when he lost his CIO gig last March at Transport International Pool and Modular Space, a division of GE Capital Company in Devon, PA. It was an all-too-familiar business scenario—Loane’s division was saddled with financial and political problems. Yet, the tech leader wasn't really prepared.

The shock of switching gears from working as a CIO to being a full-time job hunter was far more jarring than he realized, although he has been given some nice amenities. Instead of reporting to work at 7:30 A.M., Loane heads to his former company’s outplacement offices, where he has a private office and the services of a shared secretary for laid-off executives. As part of the severance agreement, Loane couldn't specify how long he'll have the use of the outplacement services, but traditionally, the programs last from a few weeks to several months.

As much as Loane wanted to find a new job quickly, it actually took two months to rev up the job-hunt machinery, and his first goal was to figure out what kind of company he wanted to work for.

“I wanted a company at which the computer component was an important part of the business,” he explained. “I was more concerned with culture than industry or company. I wanted an industry that was farsighted technically.”

Establishing a job strategy
Loane’s initial job-hunting epiphany was that blanketing companies with his resume was a waste of time. Because of a CIO's high rank on the corporate hierarchy, the CEO is the typical contact for resume submission.

“You can try sending your resume and following up with a telephone call,” he said, “but you are not going to get anywhere. Getting past the CEO’s layer of guardians is a frustrating and fruitless task,” he explained.

The same holds true for sending your resume via e-mail. Many CEOs don't screen their own e-mail—assistants scan dozens, sometimes hundreds of e-mails, often deleting job inquiries and pitches. The job inquiry e-mails and paper correspondence that do reach the CEO's desk are often due to the help of a friend or relative of the CEO.

After digesting that reality, Loane soon understood why networking is viewed as the best source of job leads. But random networking, which amounts to asking everyone for a job lead, is a waste of time.

“When you are out of a job, many friends do not like to talk to you because they do not know what they can do for you,” said Loane, adding that “you are putting them in an awkward position if they do not know anyone who can help you.”

Rather than asking open-ended questions (Is your company hiring? Do you know anyone I can talk to about getting a job?), Loane has learned to be specific on job inquiries.

”The more information you can provide to the people you are asking for help, the better your chances, because it gives them something to respond to. They may not be able to do anything, but chances are good they might either help you directly or refer you to someone they know.”

The take on headhunters
Similarly, randomly approaching headhunters can also be a waste of time.

“An unsolicited call or e-mail will be ignored,” said Loane, who was CIO and VP of Alamo Rent a Car in St. Petersburg, FL, prior to his role at Transport Int. “But, if they call for a job and you are not right for it, give them the names of a few friends who might qualify. If they do not pan out, they will appreciate your trying and remember you when a position requiring your skills comes up," he advised, adding that the recruiters will view candidates as an information resource rather than as an annoyance.

Loane also recommends finding headhunters who have some experience with the job itself.

“CIOs would do better with household-name international search firms,” he said. “If you are further down the ladder, you would do better with small search firms that service niche industries.”

Another lesson learned, said Loane, is realizing that job hunting “is a relationship world.” The more you do for others, the greater the chances are of others doing things for you. “When you are job searching, good information is priceless,” he noted.

Loane’s current goal is to try to generate two good job prospects and keep the momentum going. Here are some of the tech leader's strategy tips:

Move quickly, and be aggressive
As soon as you hit on a good lead, jump on it.

Research, research, research
Think about the type of information that yields the best results, and grab every information source about CIOs and learn to read between the lines. A company in trouble, in transition, or going through a consolidation or merger might be seeking a new CIO. Learn how to interpret the news—a corporate announcement can be the tip-off leading to potential CIO openings. The best sources, said Loane, are CEOs who point you to colleagues in need of your skills.

Spend time developing a resume that sells you
Most resumes are awful, which explains why they get tossed. Avoid generic resumes, advises Marc Lewis, managing director, technology & venture practice of Christian & Timbers, an executive search firm in New York. “Rewrite your resume to highlight quantifiable accomplishments, and find a business sponsor who can testify to the value added from your efforts,” he said.

Most of all, be patient
A division CIO should expect a six to 12-month job hunt, said Lewis. A full CIO can expect a three- to nine-month search. It could be less if the candidate offers a particular skill—right now, said Lewis, skills most in demand are infrastructure architecture and security.

In the end, said Loane, job hunting provides new skills, sharpens dull ones, and overall, can improve a person's productivity and job interest level.

“First, you polish skills you never knew you had,” he said. “Second, you learn to be resilient. And, third, you learn to toughen up because job hunting is hard, frustrating work. It is harder than running IT for a company.”

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