In the first of a new series, headhunter Cathy Holley argues that your CV may contain pointers to your likely relationship with the boss.

One of the real privileges of being a specialist headhunter is that you create a community in your given field: mine is a world of CIOs. Every day, my colleague Vicky Maxwell Davies and I are fortunate enough to meet CIOs from around the world in a broad range of industries, each with his or her own view of the world.

Headhunters are well positioned as trusted advisers. Who else do you confide in when you want to change roles, restructure your team or indeed just want to have a good old moan about ungrateful customers? Who can you share your successes with, without looking like an egocentric bragger?

Headhunters are generally good listeners, capable of synthesising what they hear to create balanced, well-informed views on every topic under the sun of interest to their community.

Business discussion taking place on table

There is usually a significant mismatch between CIOs’ and CEOs’ real interests
(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

However, some of the day-to-day job of being a headhunter is rather dull: only the most dedicated – and rather strange – really enjoy writing job specs or candidate reports. The exciting bit of the role is meeting new organisations, hearing their aspirations and challenges and knowing that you are going to be part of the team delivering that vision.

Variability of CIO-CEO relationships
The stories we hear from CIOs and their top teams and industry advisers are often funny and sometimes incredibly sad. I’ll share what I can, but I thought it might be useful to start by looking at why some relationships between CEOs and CIOs are better than others.

I recently addressed a Gartner event and research director Dave Aron was speaking on this topic. What struck me most was that comparing the real interests of a CEO and CIO, there is usually a significant mismatch. Few CIOs today spend much time thinking about technology. Generally speaking, that’s what your world-class team, if you’ve got one, should be worrying about.

However, many world-class CIOs think that reshaping business processes is the ultimate achievement and this objective must surely be what the CEO wants to…

…discuss with you. In fact, CEOs are usually focusing on external issues such as how to persuade customers to buy more things for more money and come back for more tomorrow.

Or perhaps they are worrying what City analysts are saying about the company, whether banks will lend more money and how to scrape through the next FSA audit. Or they may be wondering what their peers on the board think of them, whether they will last until the end of the year and get a full bonus. Perhaps they are simply thinking, “Can I, in all conscience and with our share price at an all-time low, squeeze in a round of golf without being slated?”

The CEO’s personal motivations
You will have noticed that the last two issues were rather personal. Do you think of your CEO as a human being with human personal drivers? Given the external pressures and personal issues going on in CEOs’ lives, we can see that the internal business issues they worry about are likely to relate to politics and their own careers.

Those preoccupations leave little time to chat to you about IT or business process re-engineering. BPR is an operational issue and the CEO has a team that deals with that stuff, just as you have a team that deals with technology. No wonder CEOs and CIOs often don’t feel connected.

The internal focus of CIOs is evident when you read the average CIO’s CV. A CV is a short summary of how you see yourself, so it’s an interesting barometer for the issues I’ve mentioned. Have you got a copy of yours to hand? You might like to read it with a different lens and ask the following question.

Have you described the companies you have worked in as if you are one of the few people shaping the company strategy, outlining the key challenges the board was facing during your tenure – be it striving for world domination, the fight for survival despite harsh external factors, globalisation, rebranding or restructuring?

Provide background to business successes
Have you ensured that your achievements relate directly to these challenges rather than presenting a series of programmes isolated from the real challenges you’ve outlined? As well as covering what you’ve delivered, have you given a little background on why the programme was critical to business success at this point?

In addition to providing the clear metrics of what the programme delivered, have you explained how it affected your company’s customers and shareholders? Is the main focus on generating business value and innovation, or on cost-cutting? Is that appropriate to where your business is today? What have you delivered that your CEO can talk to the City about? What would make you a more attractive investment for a bank or venture capital or private equity firm?

Cathy Holley is partner and co-head of the CIO Practice at executive search firm Boyden UK. Founded in 1946, Boyden World Corporation has more than 70 offices in over 40 countries, specialising in high-level executive search, interim management and human capital consulting.