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Your next IT job: Poisoned chalice or dream ticket?

Diary of a CIO headhunter: How to pick out the career-makers from the career-breakers

There's a fine line between jobs that will lift your career and ones that will scupper it, so it's wise to take some simple precautions, says Vicky Maxwell Davies.

When it's time for a career move, many high-calibre candidates often have a number of job offers and will ask our advice on which to take.

Clearly the opportunity to really prove yourself by sorting out a mess is a sure-fire way of adding some sparkle to your CV, but how do you distinguish between the roles that will propel you to even greater glory from the ones that turn out to be the career-killers?

This is the conundrum of the poisoned chalice or dream ticket. It's clear that there is a continuum between those jobs whose challenge is just too big and which for whatever reason - financial constraints, poor management, lack of strategic thinking or indeed intelligence - can never be achieved, however hard you try and whatever competencies, skills and track record you bring to the table. It just can't be done.

Job advertisement in a paper

Beware of roles that are undemanding or which cannot be carried out successfully
(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

On the other hand, there are roles that are just too easy. Everything that needs to be done has been and, even though the money might be good, there will be no opportunity for the turnaround that really showcases your talents.

So the real trick is to get as close to the line where the dream ticket morphs into the poisoned chalice - but just before it does so. That's to say, where there are massive problems in the department and the relationship with the business, where there is low morale and under-performance and major programmes to be rescued - but where these can all be fixed by a person of talent, integrity and tenacity. In other words, you.

So, for example, where there is board buy-in to the turnaround strategy and an investment budget has, or will be, approved and that this turnaround can be achieved within a three-year timetable.

But how can you tell? Due diligence, reference-taking and, of course, gut feeling. In addition, make sure you're paid well for the risk you're going to take and that that includes a stonking bonus at the end of the job.

Vicky Maxwell Davies is partner and co-head of the CIO Practice at executive search firm Boyden UK. Founded in 1946, Boyden World Corporation has more than 70 offices in over 40 countries, specialising in high-level executive search, interim management and human capital consulting.

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