It’s tough finding good talent for virtually all IT jobs. But it’s twice as hard—make that 10 times as hard—when you are trying to find a right-hand person, because the position requires a great deal of responsibility and exceptional decision-making skills.

CIOs’ right-hand people are their eyes and ears. They understand how the CIO thinks, and they understand the CIO’s role. They take the helm when the CIO is out of town or sick and do a first-rate job without the CIO having to worry that the IT effort is crumbling in his or her absence.

We asked TechRepublic members what they look for when hiring their next-in-charge, and the tech leaders we spoke with have very definitive and demanding requirements.

Right-hand people need to be well rounded
Patrick F. Gerdes, VP, technology and solution development at NOLA Computer Services, a New Orleans-based IT services provider, seeks a blend of the following qualities in his second-in-command:

  • Broad technical experience that has given the individual the ability to hone in on the essential bits of information necessary to understand new technologies
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Ability to speak to employees and motivate them (rather than speaking down to them and destroying spirit or enthusiasm)
  • Ability to listen and understand what is not being said
  • Understanding of the company’s business needs and how to design appropriate solutions to meet those needs
  • Ability to lead others based on principles, integrity, and ethics, rather than using intimidation, coercion, or other bullying techniques

But while the ideal candidate would possess all of these qualities, Gerdes doesn’t want his right-hand person to be a micromanager.

“I look for someone who understands that you have to provide leadership and guidance but [still] allow staff to do the work, even if it means permitting them to fail at times,” he explained. “We learn some of our greatest lessons through our failures. I value the manager who knows when to be hands-on and when to be hands-off and allow the staff to deliver.”

Richard Dorko, group director of IT at Springfield, VA-based commercial printer Gannett Offset, wants someone who understands the necessity of keeping expenses down in a weak economy.

“This person should know how to identify expense-reduction opportunities that don’t jeopardize the viability of the company,” he said. “Items such as equipment maintenance agreements and software maintenance agreements have always been a must-have in IT, but these are good items to reevaluate when identifying expense-reduction opportunities. A risk assessment should be done on each agreement to determine the actual cost of support, repairs, or replacement.”

Ranjana Roy Seeburn, head of the information department at Mauritius Chamber of Commerce & Industry in Port Louis, Mauritius, wants her right-hand person to have the self-confidence to make quick decisions in stressful situations.

“Don’t underestimate the technical skills needed for the job,” she said. “Since most of my colleagues have a PC connected to a network, he or she may be called to provide on-the-spot troubleshooting for a software problem or hardware glitch. A thorough working knowledge of industry software and our local network is important. This person will also be expected to contribute to purchase and implementation decisions for software, hardware, networks, and other infrastructure.”

Greg Haynie, CIO of Alta Colleges, Inc., in Denver, said a right-hand person must be capable of “diving into volatile time-sensitive issues and producing results.“

Equally important but more difficult to achieve, the right-hand person “must be able to separate his or her work and nonwork lives,” Haynie added. “He or she understands that ‘whatever it takes to get the job done’ doesn’t equate to being a workaholic.”

If you’re able to combine all of these qualities together, you’ve created the perfect executive, or a “Cyborg circa 2005,” as Gerdes put it.

“It’s actually possible to find someone with all these qualities,” he insisted, “but you have to be willing to invest time and energy looking for someone (which could take several months).”

If you can’t find someone with all of the qualities you’re looking for, Gerdes recommended cultivating the missing attributes in good candidates. “Unfortunately, we often settle for someone with only a few of these attributes and assume the candidate has what it takes to learn the rest. As upper management, we owe it to the organization to hire or grow the best talent to fill these key positions,” he said.

What’s in a name?
Once you find that right-hand candidate, what’s the appropriate title for him or her today? Seeburn suggested Assistant Information Officer or Assistant Manager, Information Department. Gerdes’ right hand holds the lofty title of Vice President of Solution Development. If you’re unsure about which title is best, Gerdes suggested getting that person’s input and said using a little creativity doesn’t hurt.

What do you look for when hiring your next-in-charge?

What skill or characteristic do you believe is the most vital when choosing the second-in-command these days? Write us, or share your input with colleagues by starting a discussion.