Let professional business coach Karen Childress help answer your career questions. Karen shares hints and tips on a host of career issues in this Q&A format.

Are my CIO ambitions squelched?
Q: I am a 28-year-old with very high goals and expectations. I want to become a CIO. I have an undergraduate degree from Boston College and a few master’s degree courses. I head the information systems for a community bank outside of a major city in Texas and have made it to vice president of IT. I am certified with Microsoft (MCSE and MCP+i), Cisco (CCNA), and CompTia (A+ and Network+).

Our bank was recently acquired by an enormous bank, and I am afraid of where this is going to put me. It seems I will be one small fish in a huge pond rather than being the person. I have considered returning to school to get my MBA many times, but I would prefer to have an organization pay for it. What do you suggest I do? How can I achieve that CIO executive level?

Promotions require political savvy
A: Vice president at age 28—very impressive indeed. Based on that fact alone, my guess is that you won’t have much trouble in the new ‘enormous’ bank setting. This is a time to be visible and yet patient. Get the lay of the land with the new organization and figure out the corporate culture as best you can. Find out what upper management values. Look at the people ahead of you who have achieved upper management status and evaluate what you see as their best qualities, skills, and character traits.

Has the new corporate owner acquired other smaller banks in the past? If so, how did management treat those new employees? You’ll want to ask questions when you meet your new coworkers who became employees as the result of another past acquisition. This will give you some insight into your chances for a promotion. Unfortunately, there are still old-fashioned companies that tend not to promote people who weren’t part of the original team. In the months ahead, be aware of how people in other departments from your bank are being treated. Are they given promotions and pay increases based on job performance alone—or are they overlooked if they were staff from an acquired bank? This information will help you evaluate if the new management will consider you for the key position of CIO in the future.

If you feel you are working in a place where it is possible to move up the corporate ladder to CIO, remember this: Executives are hired and promoted for their talent and fired for their personality flaws. Having the right skills will get you only so far. To get to the highest levels, you’re going to need to learn to play the corporate game, be politically savvy on the job, and know who your allies are. This might also be a good time for find a mentor within the organization.

As far as the MBA goes, find out what the tuition reimbursement policy is. If the company will help pay for it and you have the time, energy, and interest to pursue your education, then go for it. Given your ambition, I suspect you are going to want the graduate degree even if you have to get it without financial help.

Overworked and tired of the power vacuum
Q: I am IT manager for a local municipality. I can’t get a clear answer on anything. Everything depends on the wind and whom you are with. All I ever hear is that you are salaried and if you have to work 90 hours per week to get the job done—that is your problem. I am at the end of my rope and do not know what to do. I am very frustrated and have been here a year. Any recommendations?

Find a mentor or consider a job change
A: It sounds like chaos runs rampant in your organization. Unfortunately, that situation is not unusual in the public sector. You should identify a mentor or a coach within your organization. Look around for someone you respect who seems to have figured out how to maneuver around the system. Despite chaos around them, some people manage to make it work. A good mentor will help you sort out how to best cope with communication and political issues, and how to prioritize your responsibilities so that you don’t have to work 90-hour weeks (which will only lead you to burnout, so if you really are working that many hours you need to stop it—now).

If you scan the horizon and can’t find anyone who you think would be a good mentor, ask yourself this question—if there is no one within this organization I respect enough to ask for help, is this the environment in which I want to work?

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