Tech & Work

Homework for your next CIO job interview

An interview for a top-level position like CIO requires serious research. In part 1 of this two-part series on interviewing for CIO jobs, we'll examine how to prepare for a successful interview.


Looking for a new CIO position? An interview for a top-level position like Chief Information Officer requires serious research. Being knowledgeable about both yourself and the company requires the same kind of effort you would put into any work project. When you’re prepared, you feel more confident in the interview and your performance is better.
This is part 1 of a two-part series on interviewing for a CIO position. In part two, we will deal with the "in-your-face" interview.
Making your mark
According to Dana Curtis of the Office of Career Services at Harvard University, "It is difficult to overemphasize the importance of being well prepared for a job interview. Your degree of preparation speaks volumes about your interest level and conscientiousness. In addition to increasing your confidence, solid preparation will help you to give articulate answers and ask pertinent questions."

Whether the interview is an in-your-face type (See part 2 of this series next week on "in-your-face" interviews) or a more personable format, remember that the interviewer may or may not be skilled at interviewing. Even so, he or she needs evidence that you are the CIO for the job. Since you’re hoping for a positive outcome, here are four tips on how to prepare:
  1. Know yourself.
  2. Know the job.
  3. Prepare for case questions.
  4. Know the company.

Know yourself
Review your resume to be sure you remember details about each job. Try to remember negative experiences that occurred and how you handled them.

According to David G. Jensen, managing director of Search Masters International in Sedona, AZ: "Do a personal SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities for my future, and Threats to my future). It's a very valuable tool." (See more on this on his Website .) "If you understand your strengths and weaknesses, you are able to frame a negative situation in such a way that it doesn't reflect so negatively on you. Instead, it helps the interviewer understand how you got out of that negative situation."

Know the job
If possible, have an understanding of the job description for the specific CIO position for which you are interviewing. Have a basic understanding of the technology duties as well as the strategic planning responsibilities. Where does the position fit into the overall organization? Who would you report to in that position? If possible, know the budget and number of direct reports. Be sure that you know if IT is a strategic function or a purely support function.

Charles Martin, CIO of MicroAge, reminds us that the view of the CIO is different in every organization: "If the company is one that wants to seize technology for competitive advantage, I see the CIO as being key to executing on that strategy. But, if the IT organization isn’t staffed properly to lead with new technologies, then the business won’t be able to execute on those plans. There are a lot of organizations that, frankly, don’t need or want to have a heavy reliance on technology. In those cases, IT is a pure support function."

Prepare for case questions
"Case questions can seem overwhelming at first, but if you understand what the interviewer is looking for, and if you have practiced case questions either in a mock interview or with friends, you will soon discover that they are challenging, not overwhelming, and that they can be fun," Curtis says. Interviewers "are more interested in the way your mind works and how logically you approach the problem" than in a specific answer. She cites the three types of case questions: Guess the Number, Brain Teasers, and Business Problems, and gives examples of two of them.

Guess the number
"You and I are sitting in an empty room with no telephone, reference books, or computers. Can you tell me how many disposable diapers were sold in the U.S. last year?" (Curtis gives two logical answers on the HarvardWeb site and how they were reached.)

Business problem
This often involves market analysis. One sample problem goes like this: "Our client is a small defense contractor who manufactures nose cones for the Patriot Missile, so plant production is running at 50 percent. The client plans to diversify into the consumer electronics industry. One of its engineers has developed a new product that hooks into the common VCR. This product allows the consumer to freeze-frame the videotape, hit a print button, like the print button on your computer, and print out a 4" x 6" color photograph. The company holds the patent, and currently there are no other products like this on the market. They have called us in to help identify some of the problems that they will be facing in entering the market with this product, and how best to handle them. Our consulting firm believes that our client has about three years before a company such as Sony, Sharp, or Toshiba gets around the patent and starts to compete with them. Let's brainstorm and come up with some problems and ideas."

To answer this you have to ask questions: Figure out what the company's objectives are, both long- and short-term; analyze the market in terms of size, competition, and industry; identify strategic issues and analyze them; set goals and objectives; and more. Eventually, you will reach a decision. This is the process the interviewer wants to see you go through. For different scenarios, check theHarvard Web site .

Know the company better than the interviewer does
How could you know the company so well that the interviewer is impressed? Here are a few places to research:
  • Look at the company's Web site, including investor and media sections.
  • Find the company's promotional literature. (Call the company and ask them to send you their annual report or other literature; sometimes it might be available on their Web site.)
  • Check out various directories of specific fields, such as International Affairs Directory of Organizations, Research Centers Directory, and CorpTech Directory.
  • Read national and regional business newspapers, such as the Wall Street Journal and the Boston Business Journal.
  • Look at electronic databases for recent articles about a company and its management or products.
  • Check outBusinessWire for industry-specific news.
  • Go to PR Newswire for a company's latest press releases, investment profile, and competitor information.
  • Do a USENET search on the organization at Alta Vista or Hotbot for gossip about the company.
  • For publicly traded companies, check the Yahoo! Finance link for stock quotes.
  • Check the government's EDGARdatabase of filings for publicly held companies for their latest 10-Q or 10-K reports.

For additional Information
"Ace that Big Interview" by Susan P. Joyce, CIO Magazine online.

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