The Unprofessionals

corporate boardroomThe last few months I have been interviewing with firms for the top IT spot. It has been difficult. I have come across several organizations with an interview process that is very unprofessional. I am not sure that this happens to other C level executives or just to CIOs. I would be interested in hearing how other executives are interviewed.

1. A small non-profit educational firm that specializes in charter schools wanted a VP of technology. There top spot, which is a new role as are other roles in the organization. They put the req online and I answer with my cover letter and resume. I get a first phone screen followed by a request to develop a one-year project plan with associated budgets and milestones. This was an odd request since I had very little insight into the process or applications. I requested an application list to begin research and got a fragmented list of software.

Not being one to let things go I spend several days researching what I could and developing a project plan. A plan I was proud of based on what little information I had. I had a follow-up phone interview to present my plan and answer questions. To my surprise I was able to answer questions and make it to another phone interview.

During this interview they gave me a hypothetical scenario. It felt like the Kobayashi Maru scenario. I was successful in swaging my way through. Next came 6 other interviews to discuss my background further. At this stage I was becoming pretty tired. This was followed by more phone interviews with junior IT staff and a technology consultant. I personally don’t like firms that have junior staff interview senior staff. Does this happen to the CEO or CFO? I doubt it.

Long story short. After running the gambit of multiple interviews and face-to-face meetings, with project plans and the Kobayashi Maru addressed I was eliminated because “I was unable to make a decision.” Talk about IRONY!!! I fell on the floor with this response. As a professional I thank them and wished them best on their search. Part of me was thankful I was eliminated. How would I be able to move forward in an organization that was required to have total consensus to have progress?

2. A small security firm in New Mexico gives me the call because they wanted a new CIO to help take the organization in new directions. Again I go through multiple phone interviews. Nothing was discussed about compensation, which I thought was strange after the third phone interview. Next came the call to fly to New Mexico for face-to-face. Shortly thereafter I get an email that the CEO will not be interviewing with me-Red flag #2. I get to New Mexico and arrive at a dusty little compound filled with trailers that they called their global corporate office. I sit through 4 hours of meetings discussing my background and why I want the job. At this stage I didn’t want the role due to the environment I would be working in. Let’s just say it was rural and unsophisticated. I started to ask questions from those interviewing about the mission, vision, brand and direction the company was moving in. The response I got was “it is still being developed”- Red Flag #3. I started to dig deeper about metrics and processes and got the same answer. So this was a firm that wanted a CIO but did not have a foundation to build off. I also discovered that they were loosing contract work due to the lack of technology experience. I walked out of the location quickly and jumped on the plane, thankfully to never see that company again.

3. A small nonprofit in Connecticut wanted a new Director. There old director was not cutting it and moved on. So they thought this was a good time to bring in a new person with new ideas. I go through the standard phone screen and found the role to be interesting. I go through other phone screens and eventually go for a face-to-face. The role was interesting even though it was less salary. But it seemed challenging and I was interested in pursuing. I had a great phone conversation with the senior director about the future of the organization. I saw the future and she was able to articulate the need for technology. I sent my thank you followup up email, followed by a phone call. No response to either. I sent a followed up email again. Again radio silence. I don’t mind if they reject me, just have the professionalism to say so. Considering I made the effort to travel and interview.

I am disappointed in organizations that treat potential candidates in such a way. Then they wonder why they are not attracting “great people”. Do other executives have similar experiences?

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From the Other Side of the Table — CIO Questions to Potential Employers

meetingsSitting on the opposite end on the board room table, CIOs need to understand the type of organization they will be joining. Having been on the other end several times, it is important to get a sense that you will be valuable as a CIO and most importantly have job satisfaction. Below are a few questions I think can help.

  • What is your company’s mission and vision? What steps are you taking to accomplish them?
  • Can you explain your company’s brand and how it has evolved?
  • Can you describe your company’s growth (or lack there of) in terms of revenue and hiring over the last 5-10 years?
  • What do you think distinguishes this company from its competitors, both from a public and employee perspective? How is technology used by your competitors? How is a CIO role used by your competitors?
  • Can you explain your company’s structure and how a CIO role will fit in?
  • How do you see the CIO role contributing to the success of the organization?
  • Is this a new CIO position, or did someone leave? If someone left, why did they leave? If this is a new position why are you looking for a CIO now?
  • How would you describe the company’s culture and leadership philosophy and style? Could you describe the type of employee who fits well with it?
  • What are some of the technical problems facing your staff, and how to do you see the CIO role solving it?
  • How is the technology department perceived today? What past steps have been taken to correct this perception? What steps were successful or not?
  • What steps have the company done recently to show how it values its technology?
  • How does management view the CIO role and the importance of the IT department?
  • What is the company’s plan for the next five plus years, and how does the IT department fit into these plans?
  • How do other executives view IT?  As a Business Peer/Game changer or Service Provider/Cost Center?
  • How have various types of decisions been made (i.e. M&A, process changes, layoffs, loss of business, risks, new business)?
  • How will my leadership responsibilities and performance be measured? By whom? How often?
  • What would you say are the five most important skills/traits needed to excel in this position?
  • What particular achievements would equate to success in this role? What would success look like?
  • What challenges will this role face? What advice will you give to succeed?
  • Are you most interested in a candidate who works independently, on a team, cross-functionally, or through a combination of them all?
  • What is your ideal communication style? Do you meet regularly with your team, rely heavily on e-mail, use status reports or work primarily through other means?
  • How much guidance or assistance is made available to employees in developing career goals?
  • What resources will be available to the CIO to ensure success?
  • How do you see me as a candidate for the job in comparison with an ideal candidate?
  • Do you have any concerns about me or about my qualifications that may prevent you from selecting me for the role?

The Questions That Get Interesting Looks

2136954235_35424aa0bcI have been actively interviewing.  While it has been an interesting time to look for a senior level role I have been cautious about the organizations I have been interviewing with. I have come to realize that some organizations still do not see IT has a strategic tool but purely at a utility with no real long-term value. It is these organizations that I try to stay away from and recently have passed on further interviewing.

I use the initial interview to really get a sense of the organization. And if there are any red flags politely decline further interviews. Here are some of the questions I have asked during the interview:

  • Is technology a component of the business plan?
  • How do executives obtain information?
  • What goals and values define the current technology organization?
  • Are technology best practices and standards followed?
  • How does the enterprise select and acquire technology?
  • How effectively does the current portfolio of application support members?
  • How does the enterprise implement technology?
  • How does the enterprise manage and maintain technology assets?
  • How does the enterprise manage security, privacy, integrity, and compliance?
  • How does the enterprise measure performance?
  • Is there a willingness of staff to embrace openness and change?
  • Is there a willingness of senior executives to serve as stewards of IT and ensure IT supports the mission?
  • Is there a willingness to keep things that work and get rid of those that don’t ‐ whether it is a legacy software application, broken business process or failing project ‐ reallocating resources to better investments?
  • Is there sufficient resources to support initiatives with skilled personnel, funding, and time?
  • Is there active and visible senior management support?
  • Is there a well‐defined and disciplined processes for information capture, stewardship, and quality and accuracy assurance of information?

I have been amazed about some of the responses I have received. But it is better to find out now then 6 months into your tenure where you might be struggling.

CIO.com – How to Ace a CIO Job Interview

Have you ever wanted to know what a CIO’s interview is like? Meridith Levinson wrote a great article on CIO.com on how to ace a CIO job interview. This is a must read for CIOs or aspiring CIOs.

http://www.cio.com/article/679013/How_to_Ace_a_CIO_Job_Interview?page=1&taxonomyId=3123

Back on the Line

I have hit my 6 month anniversary of being back at work. I feel like the last year and half is a distant memory. I look back on my time out of work as a time of inner reflection about who I am and what I want from my career and life. While I don’t have all the answers I know a little more about myself – as corny as that may sound.

The good news is some of my friends that have been out of work have landed. The bad news is others are still in the search. Some have even recently lost their jobs. The economy is still not back to normal – whatever normal means today. Firms are still cautious about recruiting especially senior executives.

My advice to those still searching–keep a positive attitude. Don’t lose hope! Use your time to indulge in the things you wanted to try but never could. Most of all enjoy the time with your family.

To those that have recently lost your job -the road will be difficult. There will be times when you will feel depressed. You will be rejected over and over again in your search. Understand it is not you but the job market. Talk to family and peers about how you are feeling. Have a routine in your job search but do not let it consume your entire day. Stay positive and keep networking.

Brothers and Sisters: When Our Peers Need Help

There is no doubt that this last year has been hard on us all. Unemployment is still at an all time high. Companies are still in a “wait-n-see” mode. The future still looks bleak.

Over the course of writing this blog, I have been in contact with at least 25 IT people who have been out of work. Some have been out work for 3 or more months while others, like myself, have been out of work for a year. Some were former CIOs, CTOs, MDs, SVPs, managers, and administrators. All lost their jobs through downsizing and cost cutting.

I had a recent conversation with a manager who was let go 6 months ago and was struggling to pay his bills and support his family. I wish I were in a position to offer him a job. Instead, I offered him access to my network on LinkedIn and other peer networking groups I am affiliated with. I hope things work out for him.

As IT professionals it is our responsibility and duty to look after each other. If you are in a position to help others please do so. Your kindness will go a long way in helping others.

My Friday Post: Mulligan – Getting a Second Chance

Like most execs I spent very little time worrying about my network. Who really has the time especially when you put in 12 hour days. And those in my network worked in the same industry as myself. Well that was a mistake on both counts. When the financial crisis occurred my network crumbled like a house of cards. So I had to rebuild my network from the ground up.

I learned from my failure. I wanted my network to be broad and general. No more will I just have people in one particular industry. One-way I am rebuilding my network is by golfing. I am at the driving range 2 to 3 times per week and play a round at least once per week.

Golfing is about more than golf. It is a chance to get to know someone outside of an office setting. There is a certain comfort level to be said on a golf course, which you do not find elsewhere. I am not a good golfer. But so what? Most people that do play are not good either. That is what makes it fun. You are playing a round with someone which can last anywhere from 2 to 5 hours. That is a lot time to talk about business, family, socialize, and network with strangers.

This week alone I played with an owner of a construction company that gave me three names of people to network with. All because I played a round of golf with him for the first time and he like our conversation. Can you ask for any better way of networking? No elevator pitches, no formal interviews. Just two guys bulls##ting on a nice day shanking balls around a course and having fun doing it.

For those of you not playing golf and that want to broaden your network, take a few lessons with a pro and get out there. Those of you out-of-work, get out from behind your computer and go and enjoy some fresh air. Who knows, you might meet your next boss on the links. The worst that could happen is your Rolodex will be full with names. And in a world where networking is king, there is nothing wrong with that. Right?