Feature: Snake pit or gold mine?

The market for CIOs isn't what it used to be. "Times are poor, and the market is kind of soft," notes Rick Schoenhals, senior director for IT for the National Football League's Denver Broncos. The temptation is great to jump at any decent-sounding offer. Stop. Not every job offer thrown your way should be caught. How can a CIO know which offers are worth serious consideration and which should be given a pass? Here are 10 points to consider when analyzing an offer:

1. Is the organization financially sound? Unless you're a turnaround specialist, beware of a troubled company. It will likely promise more than it can deliver.

"The biggest red flag is the financial condition of the company," advises M. Victor Janulaitis, CEO of Janco Associates Inc., an IT consulting firm in Park City, Utah.

2. Starting compensation matters. Beware if the financial package offered is filled with promises for the future. "I'd really look for them to want me as much as I want to work for them. They need to step up with an offer that shows an interest in you," recommends Schoenhals.

3. Pay attention to the personal chemistry, especially between you and the person to whom you'll report. "Can you work with each other; do you have common goals and a common point of view?" asks Atefeh Riazi, CIO and senior partner at New York advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide. No hard and fast rules exist for gauging personal chemistry. Trust your intuition, says Riazi, who adds, "The brain decides if the money is right, but then there is more -- and that more is your gut."

4. How important is IT to the company's top management? If you'll be reporting to the CEO, IT is probably viewed as important. What's the chief financial officer's attitude toward IT? Ask the CFO for his vision for IT within the company. If the answer is long and detailed, that's good; if it's short or vague, watch out. Look at the organization's metrics to get an understanding of how IT is viewed and measured. Jo Haraf, CIO at San Francisco-based law firm Morrison & Foerster LLP, says that in law firms, a good ratio of IT staff to overall staff is 1-to-20 or 1-25. If the firm you're considering has a 1-10 or 1-50 ratio, it would indicate a very strong or very weak commitment to IT.

5. How will your performance be measured? Ask the person who will be your boss, "How will you know if I'm doing a good job or not?" You want to know the criteria by which you'll be judged, says Gerry McCartney, CIO at University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School in Philadelphia. You want a prospective boss who can articulate these standards in some detail. "You don't want the job if they can't tell if you're successful or not," says McCartney.

6. Know the state of drivers behind your potential success. Tim Buckley, CIO at mutual-fund company The Vanguard Group, says for a CIO to be successful, he needs drivers such as good people to work with, a business side that views IT as a partner and a company committed to professional development for IT staff.

Understand management and its expectations. Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director at IT placement firm RHI Consulting Inc. in Menlo Park, Calif., says you should ask yourself the following questions: How experienced is the management team you're going to be a part of? Does it have a history of stability? What are the goals of that management team, and are they smart goals? Have the goals been quantified, and are they realistic? And, of course, could you realistically deliver what they're looking for?

Can you answer all of these questions positively regarding the company you're considering? If not, you may never be successful, no matter how good you are.

7. How does the job situation fit your interests? "Can you have passion for the industry and the company?" asks Buckley. "If you don't groove on the company, you'll never click."

Lee makes the point that you should wake up each day wanting to go to work. If the company seems unlikely to generate that kind of passion in you, look elsewhere.

8. Does the full scope of your responsibilities sound interesting? This refers to not only the responsibilities of IT, but also to the scope of the problems the company faces, what you will be asked to do and how IT and the business side work together, says Lars Rabbe, former CIO at Redback Networks Inc. and now an executive in residence at Clearstone Venture Partners in Menlo Park.

9. Be wary if a company in a major metropolitan area is willing to relocate you. "Why are they spending a lot of money to relocate you? Why didn't locals take the position?" asks Janulaitis.

10. Realistically consider the demands of the job. Do you want to live your job or live your life? If the company's IT department is troubled, you may have to put in more time on the job than you want. "People are looking for a job that allows them to have a life," says Riazi of Ogilvy & Mather.

Horowitz is a freelance business and technology writer in Salt Lake City. Contact him at alan@ahorowitz.com.

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