There are a lot of pathways that lead to becoming a CIO, so whatever your career route you can always ensure that you keep in the running. And as a lot of current CIOs say, there is a huge amount you can do to increase your chance of success.
The pathway is, of course, different for everyone and it is even more so for individuals looking for an executive IT post. There is no defined pathway or route. Hearing CIOs’ stories it seems that some get to their destination without over thinking it, whilst others struggle on their journey. Listening to a couple of senior IT executives, at least one CIO of a company got there the “jammy” way because he just happened to be in the right place at the right time. The company was being overhauled and the new CEO was in a position to write a job description for a new CIO role and he was sitting there ready and able to take on the challenge.
However, there are a distinct set of attributes that all CIOs share and some common milestones along their path to their desired role.
Control your ambition
“CIO’s are a special type of person,” and future ones are pretty easy to pick out if you know what to look for. Michael Spiropolous, Managing Director of The Recruitment Alternative says “I am not sure that any of them sets out with the ambition to be a CIO – but they do want to have control of the whole thing, rather than just a small bit of it, and to get to the point.”
For a career route for CIOs to exist, key things would include project management at an early age – usually by 26 – and then some experience in procurement or management, perhaps in managing an outsourcing contract, according to Spiropoulos. More often than not this is followed by a time spent in a consultancy. “Management consulting, whether you do this independently or via a recruitment agency, is a different way of life from a career point of view. The opportunity to work in differing environments is a great learning curve.” But people often feel the need to return to “the real world” when, after experiencing many different client situations, the tasks start to begin to feel the same.
A true passion for technology and a desire to deliver are normally the crucial motivation and the means by which CIOs are spotted. An eye for an opportunity and a willingness to embrace change will speed up their career path. True stars grab opportunities and definitely have an attitude of ‘I could do that job’. Michael Spiropoulos believes that a desire to get the job done is likely to be far more important than any political motivation. “Politics tends not to be the main driver for CIOs – they are often more customer focused and their main battle is getting enough investment in systems. It’s usually one of the first four things to be cut in a downturn.”
Money is important
Until relatively recently, IT Directors reported to a Finance Director but this line of reporting left the old fashioned IT Director quite exposed in financial skills and managing big budgets, points out Michael Spiropoulos. Financial skills are a must for a CIO, alongside general management practice: “Unless you have a good understanding in this field, there is a danger that managing a big budget can get out of hand,” he warns. There is a need for broad experience and when the time comes for people management CIO’s often take to it really easily: “they enjoy sharing information and seeing people develop and believe that they are only as good as their team.”.
The most important thing is for a CIO to get under the skin of the business. If you have ambitions to be a CIO it’s important you get yourself broad experience. So if you are sitting in infrastructure support, put your name forward for a project. You do have to look around and see where the changes are happening.
It’s no use waiting for someone to tap you on the shoulder – you should be a bit cheeky.
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