CXO

Two experienced IT pros consider returning to campus

IT stresses performance above academic credentials. But a CIO without an undergraduate degree and a systems administrator both want to know if returning to campus will inject energy into their job searches. Our career guru Karen Childress has the answer.


Let professional business coach Karen Childress help answer your career questions. Karen shares hints and tips on a host of career issues in this Q&A format.

Q: I've been CIO for this company for 15 months. I achieved the position by first becoming an on-call consultant for this organization. Now, I'm in a dilemma: The values of this company are not my values. The company is rather minimalist in nearly everything that they do. I desire to move onward, but I don't have a college degree. I have about 2.5 years earned from the State University of New York. I know I need to finish this up. But I need to move on NOW. Nearly every position at the executive level requires a B.S. or M.S. How can I get around this during an interview? I mean, let's be frank: I've outperformed CEO expectations here and have outshined many of my management peers who do have an M.S. Formal education is not the only vehicle for developing quality management and technical skills. How do I get this idea inside the minds of hiring companies? Or am I just banging my head against a brick wall?
Childress: The fact that your work environment is hammering on your self-esteem is concerning. Staying in a place where you feel undervalued is a sure way to undermine it. To raise your esteem and keep it high, you need to put yourself in situations that make you feel confident and competent—both professionally and personally—and it’s up to you to create those situations. But enough with the soft stuff. Let’s address your career.
You can absolutely find a new position at the CIO level, but it may not be with a big-name, highly bureaucratic organization. As a rule, those places are more likely to insist on educational credentials, which is understandable.
You should focus your job search on small- to medium-size companies and possibly newer companies. Even with these organizations, you must develop a strategy to prevent your resume from being tossed in the “reject” pile. You should get your foot in the door in nontraditional ways. This will require networking on your part. Who do you know who can get you in front of key people at companies where you’d like to work? You need to sell yourself to the decision maker before he or she even sees your resume.
When potential employers see your resume, they’ll be impressed with the level to which you have risen in your career. You will wow them with your knowledge, experience, and charming personality so much that it won’t matter. Or at least it won’t matter as much. You are not trapped with your current employer.
As you begin your job search, resist the temptation to make negative remarks about your current company. Finding a new job is a short-term goal. But one of your long-term goals might be completing your degree. Keep in mind that many programs that offer graduate programs online also offer undergraduate study. Check out the online options described in these TechRepublic articles and downloads:

Here are a few links that may help you find a program:

Q: I am a systems administrator for a local independent insurance agency. My duties involve everything that has to do with our network—including training employees on the specialized, industry-related software that we use. All that I have learned has been on-the-job with very little classroom training. I know a little about many things and do not feel comfortable in this position. Do I try to find work outside my industry where training will be more of a focus? Or do I go back to school? I do not have a degree. I'm in my 40s, and going back to school does not bother me, but I'm not certain which course of study to pursue. A local community college offers an AAS in Computer Information Systems, an AS in Computer Science, and an AAS in Computer Technology. Can you guide me? Marcye C.
Childress: I don’t see any indication that you don’t like what you are doing or where you are working, only that you feel less knowledgeable than you’d like. I’d say going back to school would be an excellent idea for you. If you are planning to stay at your current company, the program you choose may be less important than selecting specific classes that will give you the information and skills you need to feel more competent now.
If your company does not place a high value on training and education and you really want to pursue learning, you might consider seeking employment elsewhere. If you do that, be honest and make it clear to a potential employer that continued education is important to you. Ask about tuition reimbursement.
If you take the degree route in one of the three areas available at your local college, try this exercise. Take a sheet of paper and divide it into three columns. Write the three programs across the top. Underneath, write the types of jobs you’d be most likely to find if you had the various degrees under your belt. Then study that list long and hard and think about where you would be most satisfied. A career counselor at the college may assist you in this exercise. Getting a job and making a good living is one thing. Finding something that you can really get excited about is even more important in the long run.
Do you have a question for Karen Childress? Send Karen a letter about a problem you're facing on the job or ask a question about your next career move.

Karen Childress is founder and president of ihavegoals.com. She is an entrepreneur, management consultant, and certified as a professional business coach by the Hudson Institute. A frequent speaker, she delivers keynotes and workshops to groups of 20 to 200.

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