The past few years have likely been the most challenging for CIOs in terms of career advancement—with many finding themselves being forced down the corporate ladder due to organizational restructuring, acquisitions, or downsizing. Being pushed out of the CIO role can be professionally traumatic, but it doesn't mean your career is over. Two TechRepublic members tell their tales of dealing with downsizing and finding work in a difficult economic time.
Dealing with new types of stress
Moving down the corporate ladder wasn't something Marcia Wright had ever considered, but she found herself facing that prospect when her company was acquired and the IS department was outsourced. The ex-CIO immediately took on an independent consulting role. Wright said the move "helped bolster my bruised ego, stay sane, and have some income, and gain momentum for the job search."
She didn't expect to stay a consultant for an extended period, but it's been a tough job hunt since her industry—the airline and travel sector—is still being hit hard by layoffs and downsizing. She knows she may have to change industries to find a new CIO job, and this puts her at a disadvantage. "I'll be in competition with people experienced in that industry. It is difficult to overcome people's aversion to risk in this economy, such as hiring someone from outside their industry," Wright said.
At this point, she's more than willing to take a job many steps below the executive realm, where the salary levels are half of what the former CIO used to make. "I would do it in a heartbeat so I can get back to work. Climbing back up the ladder has become far less important than living near my family, working with good ethical people, and in a work culture of treating others with respect," Wright said.
Confident that she can do well at whatever she puts her mind to, she doesn't have any fears of finding a successful job further down the career ladder. "The employer who recognizes my strengths and gives me an opportunity to join the company will land a loyal, grateful employee who will not jump ship. Moving down the ladder probably will not eliminate stress; it will just be a different type of stress—hopefully the good stress of delivering quality results."
Voluntarily stepping down
It may seem unusual, especially given today's economic climate, but some CIOs have voluntarily stepped down the corporate ladder. Check out a previous article on why a CIO might step down, and find insight on the positive career aspects achieved.
New management brings changes
Joe Michini was an IT director who moved into the VP of IT (CIO) role at a small medical company in 2000. It was a dream job that provided him great management exposure, the ability to make changes, and the opportunity to achieve project success.
The newly created CIO role was prompted by numerous technology problems, failed projects, and a lack of confidence in the IT organization, Michini explained. "I was their first CIO, and my primary goal was to create an organization that could handle the day-to-day technology issues in a timely manner without my intervention."
He immediately tackled the many projects that were in play, from ERP to HIPAA compliance, security implementation, and server upgrades. During his first year, he established a project management position and developed a five-year technology plan including budgetary requirements that aligned with the five-year business plan.
But all those accomplishments didn't come into play when the company put a new management hierarchy in place. Michini lost his CIO role. He was offered an opportunity to move down into his prior director position and report to the CFO along with the current directors who had been reporting to him. "I felt that that situation would be too awkward for all involved. I also felt that another director was not needed and that the additional position would also eventually be eliminated," he said.
While Michini is often among the top three to five candidates for CIO positions, he is finding that his former company's abolishment of its CIO role is actually impacting his job hunt—it's casting a suspicious shadow on his tenure. So after nearly a year of little to no income, he began applying for lower positions, including director, manager, and supervisor. "I was obviously overqualified for these positions, and the job market was getting worse."
Michini then decided to switch gears and "sell my technical prowess as opposed to my managerial skills and accomplishments." Soon after, he landed a job as a senior network engineer. The new job and staff level has taken some time to get used to, he admitted. "Although I am still the same person, I am treated much differently than I was as CIO. I believe that the executive position exudes a sense of accomplishment, confidence, and respect. Obviously, the person must have certain qualities, but the position does have its own aura."
Michini realizes that he is at least three career steps down from the CIO perch—a role that took him almost 15 years to attain. "Although I will never lose my desire to return, at this point, the CIO position looks almost out of reach and the job market is not what it was in 1999," he said.
Yet, he still doesn't regret not taking the IT director role offered in lieu of his CIO role. "I have been humbled by my experiences, though I don't know that I would have done anything different. I feel as though I had achieved the level of esteem that I subconsciously sought and was well on my way to self-actualization," he said.