Does It Really Take One to Be One?

min read
I suspect many of us faced this issue earlier in our careers: How can I get a management position when employers are looking for prior management experience? Isn't this a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem?
For the technology leader seeking a first CIO job, it can feel a bit like "Groundhog Day." That is, employers seem to want to hire CIOs who are already CIOs.
I've heard this loud and clear from many colleagues - it's a source of frustration for job seekers.
Let's examine this assumption more closely.
There are a number of us who have recently taken on our first CIO roles. I suspect that all of us at some point in our job searches felt that the process favored current CIOs, yet we each finally found the right institutional match.
Have you been invited to a finalist interview? Congratulations! Even if you aren't offered the position, keep in mind that it's quite resource-intensive for a campus to bring finalists in for interviews. The decision to bring you in for an interview is not made lightly. If you made it to the finalist stage, it means that you're considered qualified for the position. From that point on, it's just a matter of fit. Fit may be largely subjective and based on factors such as campus culture and environment. Therefore, remember: it's not personal. 
What if you haven't gotten that far? 
It should surprise no one who knows me that I'm going to be pretty direct on this topic. Here are the questions I feel that an aspiring CIO needs to ask her/himself:
  • Are my expectations realistically aligned with my knowledge, skills and abilities?
  • Have I spent enough time building mutual support and trust with a network of colleagues who are willing to help in my job search?
I certainly don't want to discourage people from shooting for the moon, as they say. However, some of the harder conversations I've had with others is finding a tactful way to suggest that the person might have unrealistic expectations.
The current issue of EDUCAUSE Review/Review Online (May/June 2013) focuses on the role of the CIO. In the issue, there are a number of excellent articles that pertain to the role of the CIO and the IT environment that affects the CIO's job. In particular, I recommend reading Mark Askren's article, "The CIO: Defining a Career for the Future," ( based on a presentation he gave recently. Information such as this can help you honestly assess if you're ready and if your expectations are aligned.
Another piece of advice that I offer to others is to make sure that you've spent time building relationships among existing CIOs. They can help you examine your expectations and serve your mentors. More importantly, they can help you find your next position. Do you know how people say that the best way to find a job is through someone you know? Believe it.
While I was looking for a CIO position, I sent in my application for a particular position as outlined in the ad. After a while, I was contacted by the search consultant firm handling the recruitment. After jumping through a couple of hoops, during my Skype interview with the consultant he told me that I was a sufficiently interesting candidate that I should send my application materials. He wasn't aware that I already had. Lesson learned: The reason I'd been contacted is that I'd been recommended by several CIOs, not because I'd sent in an application through the normal process.
I owe a great deal to that network of CIOs who were willing to stake their reputations on me by recommending me as a possible candidate for various CIO positions. Ask yourself if there are CIOs who know you well enough to do the same.
Finally, hang in there. Wherever you are in the job hunt, persistence matters. And yes, it was worth it!