Tech & Work

Member seeks help climbing the corporate ladder

A TechRepublic member needs advice on breaking through a promotion ceiling into a senior IT role. As columnist and HR expert Peter Woolford explains, the first step is choosing prospective employers and then using all job-search avenues.

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

Question: What’s the best job-search route?
I work in a state IT department and succeeded in advancing to manager of computer operations and support. Ours is a fairly advanced Microsoft shop with fiber campus and an ERP solution in-house. I've been here almost 12 years spanning three titles (programmer, senior programmer, and five years as Technical Services Manager).

I have a Pepperdine MBA and BSCS. Along the way, I've done just about everything, including budgets, hiring, discipline, layoffs, planning, projects, implementation, and so on. My next career step would appear to be a move to a director's position. My question is: How (or where) should I look for the opportunities? These higher-level positions seem to be known only through executive search services, and while I've found the Web sites of a few, there must be more. Is there a preferred path to gain access to the jobs being made available? Networking is of limited value if I'm open to leaving my immediate geographic market.

Writer’s anonymity was requested.

Answer: Determine employer preferences, and tap all resources
There are two keys to moving up: experience and opportunity. You have the experience, and until now, you've had the opportunities present themselves at your current employer at the right times. It sounds like you've hit a ceiling, so now what do you do? I am going to assume that you hit the ceiling because your employer is no longer expanding.

Landing a new job is never easy, and landing a new job that includes getting promoted is even harder. This is especially difficult in these tough economic times. A large number of unemployed senior managers are looking for work, and many are willing to take a step back in responsibility and compensation to get their careers restarted. Employers are seeing a much deeper talent pool than in the past. The result is the employers tend to overhire in this business climate, not underhire, since they’re able to find highly qualified staff for a lower cost these days.

I advise you to consider these two options:
  • Make a lateral move into a growing, expanding organization in a healthy industry vertical. This is your best bet to position yourself to once again be in the right place at the right time.
  • Move into a much smaller organization that is growing. You'll get the director title, but the responsibilities will be on par with your current job. (Titles tend to be handed out starting at the top and working down.) If the organization is growing, your responsibilities will grow along with it.

Where do you find these positions? Traditionally, you had to go to the executive search firms. These agencies still have a piece of this market, so you should pursue them. Realize that each of their searches is an exclusive, so you have to register with all of them.

With the softening of the economy, search firms no longer have a lock on these positions. Employers are trying to save money anywhere possible, and firms are not cheap. Many employers are pushing hard for internal referrals and are using contingency-fee-based firms to back that up. Such search firms typically work on a retainer basis and they have an exclusive on the position. Contingency firms get paid only if their own candidate gets hired.

Contingency firms typically advertise heavily on the various job boards, so they are hard to miss. Their list of job openings will change rapidly, so you'll be best served by checking regularly. Identify a long-established company or two in each geographic area that would interest you, and then monitor listings.

Pushing the internal referral network is a little trickier. You need to network through everyone you know. Typically, you start with former coworkers and colleagues from trade organizations. You should expand that to include college buddies, vendor contacts, and friends of friends. The point is to make this a numbers game, as you never know who will point you in the right direction—a friend of mine landed a great job at Dupont through his house cleaner!

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.


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