CIO Republic’s new monthly column, CIO HR Corner, focuses on helping IT leaders find the right approaches to staffing and personnel issues and career dilemmas. If you have a question you’d like CIO Republic columnist Peter Woolford to answer, e-mail it to us.

Question: Will lack of degree hinder CIO goal?
I’m an IT director for an international law firm. I started out as a Certified NetWare Engineer in the early 1990s, and I ended up in management positions. I’m not degreed, which I believe may hurt my chances of becoming a CIO and moving out of the legal vertical market. Should I pursue the CIO role and, if so, how?

Name withheld by request

Answer: Be safe—get the degree
I’m always amazed at how important the “sheepskin” is in the hiring process. Over the years, I’ve worked with a number of nondegreed people who have risen quickly through the ranks and reached director or CIO roles. These people are bright, capable, and hardworking. Their accomplishments are on a par with peers who hold degrees in management.

In a good economy, these people have no trouble landing new roles. But in a struggling economy, they have an incredibly difficult time landing anything. Their resumes are the first ones eliminated from consideration for director or CIO roles. Also, companies are reluctant to consider them for hands-on roles because their skills aren’t as current as the skills of the pure techies.

My advice is simple. If you want to pursue the CIO track, you have two choices:

  • Only look for a job in a good economy (which means you must avoid being laid off in the down times).
  • Get your degree—a real bachelor’s degree. Don’t get a certificate. Also, don’t get a master’s degree that doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree first—the bachelor’s is a necessity.

Question: What kind of degree is the best bet?
I have a bachelor’s degree in electronics engineering with an emphasis in computers and telecommunications. I work as a Web programmer/designer for a small company, and my dream is to become a CIO/CEO. What do you advise? Should I proceed with a master’s in computers and information systems management, or is it better for me to get an MBA?

Angelides Loucianos

Answer: Degree decision is just part of a career strategy
Let me address the education question first, and then I’ll suggest a career strategy.

The choice between the two degrees isn’t significant. Either would be good for you. If you have a good local MBA program, find out whether it’s focused toward technology. Many MBA programs are really focused on marketing or finance, which wouldn’t be as useful.

Now what you need is a career strategy. There are really two keys to advancement: performance and opportunity. You need to perform well. Deliver quality work and do whatever it takes to deliver on time. That will get you noticed and earn you the confidence of your management team. You need to position yourself as the top performer on the team, so you’re the one promoted.

The other half of advancement is getting the opportunity to be promoted. You need to work at a dynamic, growing company. If you work at a static or shrinking company, the opportunities for promotion simply won’t be there.

Question: Do I stay or do I go?
I’m working as a manager for the support team. My management has given me job responsibilities that are beyond my title and perhaps even two job grades up.

My promotion has been denied because the company policy requires that employees stay two years in one position before the next one. I’ve been in this position for one and a half years. I feel overworked and exhausted and have lost motivation. What are my options? Is it wise to wait for the next promotion, which will only bring me one grade higher?

Name withheld by request

Answer: Stay and build your empire
Let’s look at the big picture here. You’re being given more responsibility. Your bosses believe in you. You’re a success. You should be celebrating.

Promotions come after the achievement, not before. You have to demonstrate your ability before companies will grant you a promotion. I’ve counseled many people over the years in exactly your position. Everyone wants to get the raise and promotion, and then they’ll work harder. From the employer’s point of view, everything happens in the reverse order. People are rewarded with raises and promotions after demonstrating capability and effort. You should be honored that they think of you so highly that they’ve increased your responsibilities.

Work is a marathon, not a sprint. You must give it your all, over the long term. You need to work at a level that’s sustainable. Figure out what you need to do to survive the work and be successful. If you can do that, a promotion will give you the reward and validation you seek.

Motivation is a tricky issue. I find my motivation is strongly tied to whether I believe I’m doing a good job. My guess is you’re frustrated at getting pulled in too many directions at once. Here’s my advice: Hire someone. You need to offload some of your responsibilities to stay effective. Just make sure those responsibilities stay under your control. Build your empire.

In the big picture, waiting six months for the promotion isn’t long. If you started at a new company, you would have to go in at your current level and then earn a promotion. You would have to invest significant time, a year or two, to earn a promotion at that new company. So I’d advise you to wait for the promotion at your current employer. Look for a new job after the promotion, not before.

Have a question?

CIO Republic HR Corner columnist Peter Woolford welcomes your questions, dilemmas, and feedback. Send us an e-mail, and we’ll pass it on to him.