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Want your first CIO role in 2023? Here’s what you need to know

Woman CIO presenting in an office

ARTICLE SUMMARY

Caroline Sands, partner and head of the CIO practice at Odgers Berndtson, explains how to step up into a CIO role this year
Caroline Sands is a partner and head of the CIO & technology officers practice at Odgers Berndtson

Caroline Sands is a partner and head of the CIO & technology officers practice at Odgers Berndtson. She began her career in executive search in 2000 and has since developed a niche in the appointment of senior IT management executives, with a particular focus on cyber security. Prior to joining Odgers Berndtson, Caroline operated in executive search within the IT services and management consultancy arena where she recruited senior managers through to partner level.

During the pandemic CIOs suddenly found themselves in the hot seat. The responsibility for creating entirely remote workforces, ensuring client and customer relations continued while working from home, and maintaining cyber security throughout this transformation, fell at their feet. 

Naturally, CEOs and other board members turned to their CIOs for advice. Almost overnight, digital transformation became the priority in business strategies and fundamental for steering companies out of the pandemic. It cemented the CIO role as an essential leadership position.  

Now, post-pandemic, companies are repositioning technology at the heart of innovation. This is making CIOs key to enhancing digital capabilities and creating new products, services, and customer engagement models.  

In short, the role has evolved rapidly over the past two and a half years, becoming integral to business success. Understanding these changes and what boards now expect of technology leaders is critical if you are looking for your first-time CIO position. 

ARE FIRMS HIRING CIOS IN 2023? 

Despite headline-grabbing job cuts across the IT sector, tech leadership hiring remains strong. A combination of high CIO turnover during the pandemic, poor CIO succession planning, and growing enterprise technology projects, has created an environment of ongoing demand for CIOs.   

Depending on inflation and the impact of the recession, these market conditions may change. The first half of 2023 may see PE firms roll up poor performing companies and acquire others at good buy rates. As is often the case, many of these will be folded into larger organisations. While this may slow CIO hiring in the first half of the year, such transformations almost always require senior technology leaders, leading to a spike in CIO roles in the latter half of 2023. 

WHAT SKILLS AND EXPERIENCES DO CIOS NEED? 

The CIO role is now a function leader first and technical leader second. This requires strong communication and people skills, the ability to influence others, and take teams on a journey of change. Influencing senior stakeholders and demystifying technology to board leaders are everyday responsibilities for CIOs, and hiring managers will expect candidates to provide examples of achieving both in interviews. 

Fundamental experience is needed in software development, project management, business intelligence, budgeting, and technical areas like SAP and VMware. But equally important are the broader business leadership skills – commercial acumen, delivering strategic insights from data, and the ability to hire and build a high-performing tech team. 

The role is no longer just about implementing new IT systems. CIOs are hired to develop digital products and services, enhance the customer journey, and digitally transform different functions. Experience in leading or playing a key role in these types of projects is essential.   

HOW DO I GAIN LEADERSHIP SKILLS AND EXPERIENCE FOR A CIO ROLE? 

The CIO role requires a mix of technical experience and broad leadership skills. This requires a strong foundation in IT and digital technology combined with general business management skills.  

Those who come up the IT route will often need to develop the business management elements by taking secondments, volunteering for initiatives, and even securing non-executive roles. IT projects that feed into areas like HR, finance, and marketing are great experience for aspiring CIOs. While being involved with diversity and inclusion and sustainability initiatives will also provide the broader business experience and make candidates highly attractive to hiring companies. Non-executive roles will provide the ‘helicopter view’ of an organisation and experience of guiding its overall strategy, as well as experience of interacting with the board.  

Ultimately it’s about being part of the bigger conversation of the business. Hiring managers and headhunters want to see how a CIO candidate has been in involved in and influenced business strategy, helped generate more revenue, and moved the business forward in areas like customer engagement, product, and services. 

HOW DO I OVERCOME IMPOSTER SYNDROME ABOUT A LEADERSHIP POSITION? 

First time C-suite positions often come with an element of self-doubt: “am I really good enough to do this?” Especially roles like the CIO, where other leaders are coming to you for advice, the sense of being an imposter is common.   

But these feelings tend to come from a place of fear, and can be mitigated by a change of mind sent. It’s common to find reasons to rule yourself out of a role, and build a picture of why you can’t do the job. Turn that on its head and start listing reasons why you can do the job. Likewise, it’s easy to look at the challenges of leadership as something difficult to overcome. Rather, look at them as an opportunity to develop. 

Once in the role, measure the first 90 days. Learn about the business, your team’s strengths and weaknesses, any spend on shadow tech projects, develop internal relationships and discover what the business thinks of IT. A greater understanding of your function and its place in the business reduces the fear of the unknown, and the feelings of “what if this happened…” 

Finally, benchmark where you are when you join the company, and reassess this each month. A sense of self-progression, however small, generally leads to greater self-confidence. 

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