How to land the perfect CIO job

When it comes to landing a new IT leadership role, your approach has to be proactive. Here's a step-by-step guide to getting that perfect job, including tips on watching the marketplace and playing the networking game.

By Sanjay Anand

Finding that next tech leadership role isn’t just a matter of sending out resumes and tracking job ads. Before the resume is buffed and shined for distribution, the CIO job search must start with an analysis of your skills in relation to what the marketplace requires. When IT professionals create a resume that only embodies their skills and abilities but is unrelated to the realities of their target industries and verticals, their job search suffers.

My goal in this article is to help you bridge the gap between what you are looking for in a job and what the market needs from you. Here is a step-by-step plan to getting the perfect CIO job.

Step 1. Understand the marketplace
To understand the job marketplace, you must gain an understanding of the driving forces in the IT marketplace, the major trends affecting the industry, and what opportunities these trends create for you. Don't think you already know the answers to these questions; you need to research them and write down the answers to these and any other questions that you think of as you explore the IT market. If you haven’t been visiting regularly, now is a good time to do so. Other great sources for industry trends include and the multitude of books, magazines, and Web sites catering to the IT population at large.

Step 2. What is perfect for you?
Once you have a handle on what the marketplace wants and needs, compare that to your skill set and your needs and wants. Specifically, what are you looking for in your next role as CIO and what can you bring to the table? Consider:
  • Size of the target companies
  • Industry vertical(s)
  • Geographic markets
  • Cultural climate
  • Size of the team
  • Number of users of IT
  • Specific technologies

If you have access to the Hoover's site, through an outplacement firm or through your university or public library, use it to help you identify which companies you wish to target. Typically, your first list should include about 25 to 50 companies in your target market. Of course, this is an evolving list and can be changed and adapted as you go through the search process. Often, within large global enterprises, there can be dozens of CIO-level opportunities, and the goal is to put your resume in the hands of those hiring currently, or planning to hire down the road. While most professionals target job searches to specific advertised openings, it isn’t a waste of time to target companies specifically—even if they’re not publicly hiring.

Step 3. Create your communications
Once you know what you can do to satisfy the needs of the marketplace, how do you propose to reach prospective employers? What will your communications strategies be in the following situations?
  • 30-second elevator pitch
  • Networking among peers
  • Responding to job postings
  • Direct mail to target companies
  • Communication through recruiters

Write, revise, and practice your verbal and written communications over and over again. Make them perfect. Also, if it suits your style, be excessive. Remember, the goal is to get noticed and create the right impression.

If this means packaging your job application materials in a folder and using FedEx or UPS for delivery instead of simply a letter or an e-mail, then do it. The bottom line is be focused, determined, and aggressive to put yourself way ahead of the curve. While there are no guarantees in any job search, taking this approach will put the odds significantly in your favor.

As an example, I created a unique graphical format (see Figure A) for presenting my list of references to recruiters and potential employers. This often caught their attention, and resulted in job interviews and offers. If nothing else, it prompted them to call me just to hear the voice behind the presentation.

Figure A

The graphic places the candidate in the center and the various stakeholders, including direct reports, supervisors, customers, and partners around the center (to protect my references’ identities, the text on this graphic has been intentionally made fuzzy).

Resume dos and don’ts
Here are some solid resume suggestions that can get you noticed while saving you time and money:
  • Do NOT send your resume as bulk e-mails or mails to hundreds or thousands of companies using the low-cost services that you will often see advertised. Subscribers to these kinds of online services have no ability to track where the resumes were sent, or even ascertain that they were sent and then received by hiring managers. These services are considered by many hiring managers to be annoying junk mail.
  • Do NOT stay glued to your computer responding to job postings on the Web or in local and national newspapers. While you certainly must use these as one of your job search vehicles, the bulk of your time must be spent on networking.
  • Do use a resume-writing service to assist you with the crafting of your resume and cover letter. While you may be hesitant to shell out the hundred dollars, remember that they do this for a living and are probably significantly better at it than you are. You know how to handle IT departments; they know how to craft resumes and letters that get results. Talking with a career counselor about your job search is often very useful as well.
  • Do provide your resume to top-notch recruiters (retained as well as contingency) who will be able to guide you in your job search. The good ones will actually take the time to talk with you about your goals and objectives, and really get to know you before they push your resume on to prospective employers. Some will even serve as a motivational coach throughout this process. Of course, as one aspiring CIO related, going with every recruiter isn’t beneficial either. “Many are not geared for top-level positions, many will not take the time to meet with you and get to know you first. If they're going to submit you to an executive position, you'd better be more than a piece of paper,” the CIO candidate said.

Step 4. Network, network, network
 Finding the right CIO job requires diligent networking. This is the single most important step in your job search process, but it is also generally considered one of the most difficult. It requires a concerted effort to expand your social and professional circles, and let others know that you’re in career transition.

Two aspects of networking make it the most effective part of your job search:
  • Most people don't like to do it, which increases your odds of success if you do.
  • Research has shown that the majority of the jobs people get are due to networking, especially at senior levels.

Keep three aspects of networking in mind:
  1. Networking is a two-way street. It’s about getting to know others so that you can help them and they can help you.
  2. The professionals you directly network with will seldom have jobs for you. However, they may know someone who knows someone who may know of a job at a friend's company. This is “six degrees of separation” at work.
  3. Just do it, no matter how uncomfortable it may feel at first. It will get easier with practice.

Several networking groups can help you get started in a controlled, organized environment. These include the Technology Executives Network Group and MIS Network Associates. Most are free or low-cost. The most expensive that I’m aware of are ExecuNet's networking events. I can assure you that these are worth the $5 to $50 investment, and many will allow you to attend the first event free as a guest.

Step 5. Direct mail
You may have noticed that I haven’t included a section on responding to job ads and postings. I think that most people are fairly adept at this particular process once they have used the services of a professional letter and resume writer. However, I’m including insight on direct mail since not nearly enough people use this excellent method as part of their job search campaigns.

The use of direct mail—which consists of a letter outlining what you can offer the company as an employee—works in concert with your target companies list. Once you have identified your target companies, and possibly networked your way into a company, the next best thing to actually being able to pick up the phone and call someone there is to write to them.

The debate continues about whether e-mail is preferred over snail mail. But regardless of how you do it, be sure to demonstrate to the recipient that you have studied his or her company's industry and the company itself, and that you have something of value to offer.

Provide just enough information in the letter to get the person excited enough to either call you to come in to his or her office to chat or to request your resume. Don’t send your resume with the direct mail letter or e-mail or you run the risk of seeming too pushy.

Step 6. Interviewing
Once you have your foot in the door (by using the strategies above), you will likely be called in for an interview. Now it’s time to prepare, prepare, prepare. Interviewers expect you to know almost everything there is to know about what the company does and what challenges it faces, as well as recent company news. Failure to research is suicidal in a job search.

There are many places that you can get valuable information on the companies you’re targeting and/or interviewing with, and most of it is free. Some of my favorite resources are:
  • Company Web sites, which typically provide corporate information on everything from brochures to annual reports
  • Free portals and information hubs (Yahoo!, Excite, Alta Vista, and Google)
  • Newspapers (online or offline) including local editions and national newspapers like The New York Times
  • Paid sites like Hoover's and

Interviews come in two basic types: Behavioral interviews that address such areas as your goals, objectives, strengths, and weaknesses; and experiential interviews, which address background, skills, education, and knowledge.

Be prepared to discuss virtually any aspect of these two areas in great detail and focus on presenting a positive image of yourself without compromising integrity and professionalism. Be sure to have examples from your past experiences from each of these areas to back up your claims.

In most organizations, it is no longer sufficient for a CIO to simply understand technology. As organizations reframe themselves for tomorrow, so must you, and the only way to do that is to build skills that go above and beyond the current needs of the industry.

As the cliche goes: "The only job security today is your own ability to get your next job." For a CIO, that means having the appropriate mix of business and technology experience within the industry vertical. According to most experts, this mix is weighted 2-to-1 in favor of business over technology.

According to John Lucht, author of the Executive Job-Changing Workbook and Rites of Passage at $100,000 to $1 Million+, job seekers absolutely must offer employers two essentials:
  • Something they need and want (not to be confused with the job seeker’s needs and wants)
  • Proof that the candidate can be relied on to deliver those requirements

Once you’ve done the market research and you’ve redefined your professional identity to fit perfectly into the industry’s needs, you will be ready to embark on the quest for the perfect CIO job.

The perfect CIO job is out there, but it is going to require hard work and dedication to find it. Too many professionals think that simply creating a resume and responding to a few online or offline job ads will get them their perfect CIO position. Nothing is further from the truth.

A job search requires your full and undivided attention. It is a 40-hour per week job, and you get better at it as you keep doing it. Track your progress (time, conversations, mailings, interviews) and results on a spreadsheet. Be sure to use all the resources available (books, libraries, counselors, peers, friends) as you go through this process. And, lastly, don’t forget to make networking your new favorite pastime.

Sanjay Anand, MSc, MS, MBA, MSF, is President and CEO of CLA Solutions Assurance Systems, and founder of the non-profit group, Career Path Work Team, for professionals in career transition.