Career Counsel

FRAMINGHAM (07/17/2000) - DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL Q: I have been with my company for eight years, and I relocated a year-and-a-half ago to the corporate office when the local office was closed. I perform team leadership and contract management functions, I am MCP, and I will finish my MBA this summer.

My family wants to move back home before fall, and I'm not sure if I should inform my company that I'm looking for another job and will be leaving, or wait and tell them after I have a job in hand. I think I should give them time to make arrangements, but my wife thinks I should wait until I've found a job.

Should I tell my company I'm looking?

A: Your wife is right. Exposing your intention to leave, some six months prematurely, will certainly put you in jeopardy of losing your current relationships, responsibilities and authority on the job, not to mention your credibility since nobody will understand the reason you're leaving. Your obligation to your employer is to ensure continuity and succession within your span of control, whether or not you resign next fall or get hit by the proverbial truck tomorrow. Additionally, when the time comes for you to move on, you are obliged to leave your employer and your own domain in great shape.

Given your obvious sense of diligence and loyalty, I feel confident that you will do that very well. Lastly, you can remain accessible to your successor and former superior and peers in case they need your help after your departure.

WHAT'S IN A RSUM? Q: I've read several books on rsum preparation for high-end positions, and I feel that my rsum has been cast in a manner that is consistent with the advice provided. I also sought the assistance of a national and well-respected company that specialized in executive rsum preparation. With all that, the typical response that I am receiving is that I am either too technical or they are very impressed, but something's missing. What could I be doing wrong?

A: If the "too technical" or "impressed but..." responses follow a reading of your rsum, then you are indeed too technical or you have inadvertently portrayed your experience that way--or there is something else on your rsum that is turning the reader away, something that the reader can't or won't acknowledge. It could be a legitimate concern like your job history, the places you have worked, your education or an illegal issue like gender, age, religion and so on. To guard against the first possibility, read your rsum again, very slowly, and ask yourself what impression each and every entry might tell a reader about you--then get a trusted third party to do the same. Unfortunately, there's no way to guard against the latter possibility. If on the other hand, the "too technical" or "impressed but..." reaction comes after a face-to-face meeting, then look to develop and polish your interviewing skills and try to discover what's holding you back.

A FORK IN THE ROAD Q: I have an opportunity to take one of two jobs. The first is as IT operations manager of a small but fast growing company that develops software for marketing resellers of all product types. The intent is to groom me for the IT director position.

The second is with a top company in e-billing services as director of distributed systems. However, I would have to compete with four other candidates for the next promotion--vice president of IT operations. In your opinion, which position should I take in order to stay on track for a future CIO position?

A: It is difficult to answer you definitively from the little information you have provided, but let's give it a try. If I'm not mistaken, the first situation sounds like an internally oriented responsibility for IT operations, keeping the infrastructure running smoothly and managing the company's enterprise transaction and information applications processing. This sounds like it might be a prelude to an IT director position and if so, may be quite appropriate in keeping with your CIO goal.

Alternatively, the second option looks like a chance to manage distributed systems--also presumably the IT infrastructure and operational aspects--for a leader in the very hot e-billing space. This experience will surely keep your skills and knowledge current and timely. In the big picture, I would advise you toward the latter choice--it may be more competitive but will be a better opportunity for building your rsum in e-business content value, while still offering you comparable management responsibility.

THREE-LEGGED STOOL Q: I have an opportunity to move from a financial executive position at a subsidiary company to a newly created CIO position at the parent company. As the new CIO, I will assist in a worldwide reengineering program and implementation of new systems to support the new business model. I have had prior IT experience through responsibility for management of staff and consultants maintaining proprietary software; implementation of a network environment; selection, negotiation and implementation of an ERP system; and reengineering of a business model in expectation of the ERP implementation.

However, I've had limited involvement in the three legs of IT (technology and architecture, operations and technical support, and application systems development and support) that you mentioned in response to a past question.

Will involvement from an executive level compensate for the lack of lower-level technical experience, or will it impede my ability to move to other organizations in a similar role in the future? Overall, would you consider this a good move?

A: Yes, I would recommend the move but only if you are certain that you will truly enjoy being a CIO and having a CIO career, or if a turn as CIO is part of your plan to acquire a broad base of experiences in preparation for general management.

Your prior IT experience, especially your role in the ERP implementation, is clearly part of the "applications systems development and support" leg of the stool, and it appears to be highly applicable to the short-term mission of the new CIO position. So you are in the game.

I also agree that your lack of prior technical experience is a handicap as a CIO, both in the current situation as well as at any future employer. You can compensate for this hole in your background by leveraging your business knowledge and strategic planning skills to create strong value for your IT function, and by utilizing your financial expertise to put forward a strong business case for each of your IT initiatives based on compelling returns on the investments.

Most important, seek out and hire the very best lieutenants you can find to serve as trusted deputies to manage the infrastructure and operational aspects of your new domain, either in-house or through the very best outsourcing solutions available to you. In either case, this will minimize your experience gap and leave you free to focus on the strategic value of your responsibilities.

A FELLOWSHIP ROLE Q: I am a senior-level IT manager for a large beverage company that I have been with for 15 years. I am 40 years old and have an MBA.

Most of the company's IT staff is moving--including my function--and I recently declined a transfer because of my family's desire to remain in this geographic area.

To my surprise, in an effort to keep me, they have offered me a senior technical fellow role doing special projects in emerging technologies in my present location. I feel this would be fine for a future in consulting but am concerned that stepping out of the management path will present a problem if I want to change companies in the future. Is this advisable, and how long is too long to stay out of management?

A: First, recognize that you have been paid an enormous compliment in the form of an offer to remain with the company, as a senior technical fellow, while maintaining your present residence. Good for you! You have obviously made a significant contribution in your 15 years of service, and you are quite right that they don't want to lose you.

As far as which might be the right path for you--transfer, stay on or move on--that all depends on your personal and professional priorities, and what you want from your career and your life going forward. The first option, to take the relocation, has already been eliminated by the family's desire to stay put.

A tougher choice is whether to take the reassignment doing special projects in emerging technologies or to seek a new management position at a new employer.

If you enjoy management and are very good at it (which I suspect you are based on your track record with your current employer and the MBA) then perhaps this is a good time to move on. Any significant hiatus from management will make it tough to get back in at a latter date, and the longer the digression the tougher it will be. Many potential employers will always assume that you gave up management for additional reasons other than just the company's move. And the senior technical fellow title may brand you as a solo (ivory tower?) technologist rather than a business-driven leader.

The market for talented IT management is hot and will receive your credentials anxiously. And after all, it has been 15 years, and judging by your age, you've had pretty much a one-company career. So why not play in a different pond or even another industry to give your experience some new breadth and yourself a new challenge?

CIO QUALIFICATIONS Q: I am a young, technically oriented individual seeking a CIO opportunity. I have a developing opportunity that I believe will give me the chance to create an IT department from scratch. The company I am currently with has a nontechnical person fulfilling IT duties. The company, and consequently the head IT position, is rapidly expanding.

Is the path of creating an IT department at a small but growing organization a valid direction toward an eventual CIO position? And what is the definition of a CIO, as I will likely be required to define the role to be filled first? I would like to determine whether I would qualify for the title of CIO before any other kind of promotion.

A: It sounds like you may be at the right place at the right time to take advantage of your employer's rapid growth. The company's expansion will likely create an opportunity for you in IT management. Perhaps it will be the top position, or perhaps you may play an expanded and key role in the IT function and still report to the top person currently in place.

Now there are three questions that need to be addressed. First, do you truly want to be a CIO? You refer to yourself as a "technically-oriented individual," so let's be sure that it is the strategic role of a CIO that you are focused on, rather than a systems or infrastructure management position that you truly seek. Second, do you have the experience and skills or at least the aptitude required to succeed as a CIO? Don't set the CIO goal for yourself simply because it sounds good, and then fail or be unhappy in that role. And third, does your growing company get it? Do they want a CIO who can contribute to the enterprise's strategic plan and create operational excellence and competitive advantage through investments in the application of technology? Or will they settle for a director to run IT solely as a support organization.

Proceed straight ahead if all three answers are positive. Otherwise, slow down and take each step as it moves you in the right direction for both you and your employer.

Mark Polansky is a managing director and member of the advanced technology practice in the New York City office of Korn/Ferry International. He is also the chairman of the Greater New York Chapter of the Society for Information Management. The Web-based Executive Career Counselor column is edited by Web Research Editor Kathleen Kotwica. She can be reached at kkotwica@cio.com.

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