Tech & Work

Changing jobs for the promise of a quick promotion is a big gamble

An IT manager is clearly making his way toward the coveted CIO role, but isn't sure whether a move to another smaller company would be a good step. Career expert Molly Joss explains the best way to evaluate whether he should stay or move on.

I have been in IT management for a few years, steadily working my way up and am now in what I consider middle to senior management. I have always managed my career by taking jobs at smaller companies, moving to more challenging jobs at larger companies. Right now I work for a Fortune 1000. My goal is to become a CIO at a Fortune 500 international company within the next seven to 10 years.

Recently, a recruiter approached me about a job opening as a senior VP of technology at a less well-known, smaller company. The work is a slight step up for me, but the pay is about the same. Her hook is that she feels that if I take the job, it would only be a year or so before the company gets large enough to need a CIO and I would be perfectly positioned to take over that role. My current job is secure (as far as I know), but I would never get to be CIO here and might never be able to move up at all (too many people ahead of me). Do I stay or go?

It's great that you are in such an enviable position, given the fact that so many IT managers are out of work or worried about their jobs. It's also good that you've set an ambitious, but achievable, goal for yourself to become a CIO at a Fortune 500. You do have a real dilemma to resolve, though.

Let's take a minute to analyze the situation and the recruiter's statements, keeping in mind that she will get paid only if she is able to find someone to take the position. To me, that makes her opinions a little biased, and I wouldn't necessarily take them at face value.

The company she is pitching is smaller and not as prestigious as the one where you are currently employed, but the work and the pay sound as though they are about equal to what you have now. If the title they are offering is not a big improvement over the one you have now, then there is little reason for you to explore this particular opportunity further.

However, you're correct in feeling that the one hook she might have in this situation is the possibility that you might rise to CIO within a few years if you take the new job. You feel that your options are much more limited where you are now, and I would have to agree with your assessment. The larger the company, the more competition there is for any position and more weight is given to seniority.

Time to do some research
What you must do is examine the possibilities. IF the smaller company continues to grow, you MIGHT be able to get the CIO position IF one is created. You need to do some research about the company to verify her statements. You also must find out if the company likes to promote from within or recruit its senior execs from outside.

Usually, recruiters won't disclose the company name until you agree to an interview, so you might have to go for one interview just to get the name. That's okay because an interview will give you a chance to ask some questions about the company's culture. It would be perfectly appropriate for you to ask some of your would-be peers and bosses about how they came to hold the position they now have. If most of them came from outside the company directly to their current position, then your chances of being promoted to CIO are slim. They'd probably do an executive search outside the company rather than promote from within. In fact, you might not even hear about the new position until it's been filled.

After you get the name but before you go on the initial interview, do your best to find out as much as you can about the company—particularly what its prospects are. Use online databases and trade magazines to start your research. Find some industry analysts and business analysts you can call and ask about the company.

Research on public companies is a lot easier than on privately held ones due to the fact that any company that trades publicly has to disclose certain financial information.

It is much more difficult to get useful financial information about a privately held company. You should be much more skeptical about the recruiter's claims of rapid growth if the company is privately held because you won't be able to easily verify the claims. Plus, you might question whether a privately held company is interested in rapid growth now that the days of instant IPOs are over.

I would advise you to be very cautious if the company has been in business for five years or less. I would also advise against moving to a young company even if it is a spin-off of an established one. I would not say this to someone who is trying to make a big career jump or is out of work. In your case, moving from a secure job with an established company to a fledgling company—only to have it go under within months or a few years—would be a bad move.

Overall, making this kind of move might not be your best option. A better next move would be into a position as a CIO of a smaller company as a segue in your career path to being a CIO at a Fortune 500.

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