Career Solutions

Are You Using the Wrong Methods to Obtain Interviews
for CIO, CTO or IT Director Jobs?

Avoid the Traffic Logjam on the Traditional Job Search Routes

By Janice Weinberg

If you're like many computer industry managers who are seeking CIO, CTO or IT director positions, you're disappointed with the results of your search—and frustrated in trying to pinpoint the cause. You look at the requirements specified in ads for IT managerial jobs and objectively conclude that your background is an excellent fit. Perhaps you've also been encouraged by receiving strong confirmation from IT and other executives of both your readiness for the position you're targeting and the strength of your resume. Yet, your persistent efforts to win interviews have either been completely unsuccessful or yielded only lackluster results. (Of course, getting interviews is only one element of a successful job search, and if you're interested in my thoughts on other aspects of the IT management job search—including writing resumes, targeting employers, preparing for interviews, and negotiating compensation—check out my recent twelve-part interview on LinkedIn. I believe you'll come away with some fresh ideas you can put to immediate use to get on a fast track to a new position.)

The Shortest Distance Between Two Points is a Straight Line

The most common explanation for capable IT managers to experience road blocks in generating interviews—assuming that their resumes are the strongest possible presentations—is that they spend too much time using traditional search methods—answering ads, contacting IT executive recruiters and mining their online and offline networks—and not enough time—or worse, none—directly contacting executives who have the authority to hire for the position they want. Of course, every job seeker will gladly contact an executive when referred by a networking contact, but by "directly contacting executives," I mean introducing themselves without being able to mention a mutual acquaintance as the referral source. In fact, in the time a job seeker might spend trying to find someone in his network who can introduce him to an executive at a desirable employer, the job he wants could become open and offered to someone who did not try to find a "middleman," but instead researched and introduced himself to the hiring executive.

It's the ROI of a Job Search Method that Matters

In working with many IT managers, the main objection I hear them voice about using this method is that they feel it's a waste of time to contact executives without knowing that a suitable opening exists. From my perspective, however, I see a greater problem with contacting an employer whose ad for an IT executive job has your "name" on it since that ad is just as visible to thousands of your competitors who also see their names on it. Although approaching an executive without knowing that he has an opening for a CIO, CTO or IT director job may seem to be a waste of time, it offers a significant advantage over responding to ads: you'll have zero or negligible competition. Being the only candidate—or one along with a handful of others who also appreciate the merits of this method—means that instead of your resume being an infinitesimally small fraction of a terabyte of resumes read by a software program, your qualifications will be reviewed by a human being. But there's another, equally important, reason to use this method: a job seeker who introduces himself directly to a hiring executive will demonstrate that his approach to career management is to independently and proactively pursue an ambitious goal, rather than relying on intermediaries, such as recruiters and networking contacts, or passively waiting for an employer to publicize its job openings. Surely, someone who contacts an executive in the manner I'm recommending will send the message that he'll be equally resolute in accomplishing challenging goals in a corporate environment—especially a large bureaucratic organization.

Once you start using this method, I'm confident you'll find—as many of my clients have—that the dividends you'll reap from your investment of time will be much greater than what you have to show for the same amount of time spent answering ads, posting your resume on IT job boards, networking or contacting IT executive recruiters. And I want to emphasize that I'm not recommending that you cease using these methods, since there's always the possibility that they'll bear fruit. What I am strongly urging, though, is that you make directly contacting executives the centerpiece of your campaign for an IT director, CTO or CIO position.

Being a Backup Candidate Can Be a Door Opener to an IT Management Job

Don't be deterred from using this method by the fact that you won't know if an executive will have a suitable opening when you approach him. Even if he's fully staffed at the time, if you make a favorable impression, he may suggest that you send your resume for future consideration in the event that the position you want becomes available. Looking back over your career, you've surely learned one of the realities of the workplace; namely, that all organizations are in a constant state of change. Yes, layoffs are common examples of change, but so, too, are openings created by voluntary staff departures, expansion programs and restructurings—especially those that inevitably follow the appointment of new executives.

Of course, the likelihood of an executive having an opening on the day you contact him is small, but the next day, week or month, he might be presented with a resignation letter from one of his managers who holds the very position you want. Every executive dreads the prospect of having to divert valuable time from his pressing responsibilities to find a replacement for a departing manager—an experience of which you probably have first-hand knowledge. Even if he delegates the task to an IT executive recruiter, he'll still have to spend time screening candidates. In a best-case scenario, the favorable impression you'll make might prompt him to invite you for an interview and, upon meeting you, conclude that there's no point in placing an ad or engaging an IT recruiter because he's found the right man or woman for the job.

The Importance of Retaining the Right to Negotiate

If you're willing to try this method, you'll need to decide how to contact executives. While you might be inclined to mail or email your resume with a cover letter, these methods have the same weakness: they are passive, one-way communications. The most skillfully written letter can never equal a real-time conversation as a negotiating tool—and negotiate is what you must be prepared to do since there's a high probability that the executive will not have an opening when you contact him. In contrast, having a phone conversation will give you an opportunity to persuade the executive that he should review your resume to see if your capabilities could potentially be useful to the organization even if no opening currently exists.

Naturally, since your telephone conversation must be viewed as a formal interview, well before you place the call you must plan what to say to immediately get the executive's attention, as well as how to respond to each objection she's likely to raise as to why she doesn't want to meet with you—the most common being that she doesn't have an opening. As a matter of fact, some IT managers who hired me after conducting a fruitless job search had previously used the phone-calling method—but without success. However, they had all made the same two mistakes: first, they began the conversation by asking if the executive had an opening for the position they sought; second, upon getting a "no" reply, they merely thanked the executive for her time and ended the conversation—which is what they should absolutely not have done!

If you're receptive to trying this method and want to realize the greatest benefit from a one-on-one interaction that can pave the way to a CIO, CTO or IT director job, the sample telephone script you'll find in my book, Debugging Your Information Technology Job Search: A Compass to Winning the Management Position You Really Want, will be an invaluable resource. The script will "walk" you through every step of the conversation, from the time the executive answers the phone and you must make a compelling opening statement to get her attention, through skillfully dealing with challenging objections and questions so as to persuade an executive who might initially want to hang up on you to seriously consider your qualifications. The script uses the example of a computer operations manager seeking a director-level position, but regardless of whether you're targeting a CIO or CTO role, or one overseeing a networking, application development, service delivery, governance or any other IT function, you'll be able to easily adapt it to your particular situation.

By the way, one indication that an executive either has an opening or anticipates one soon is if she asks what compensation you're seeking. Naturally, you should be prepared with as carefully reasoned an answer as you would for a formal interview. In addition to the response included in the sample script, I suggest several other ways to answer this question in the chapter that will guide you in excelling in each of the ten phases of the interview process for IT managerial jobs.

Since you're not a sales professional who routinely conducts cold-calling campaigns, it's understandable if you're uncomfortable at the thought of using the telephone approach. However, if you look back to the time in your career when you were about to make your first executive presentation, you probably experienced the same degree of discomfort—perhaps even fear?—but I would guess that you've become so confident about these events that nowadays you look forward to delivering presentations. Similarly, I believe that the step-by-step script in my book will erase most of your reticence, and that once you see results from using this method, any remaining concern will disappear. Of course, you should expect some executives to be unreachable and others to rebuff your attempt to engage them in conversation. But keep one important fact in mind: in contrast to a sales professional who must sign on multiple new customers generating a targeted amount of revenue—you need just one customer. Imagine that you received a call from a qualified candidate for a job in the IT organization you oversee—wouldn't you listen to what he had to say on the assumption that you might urgently need his services one day—and welcome the opportunity to avoid incurring the time and cost entailed in recruiting a competent IT manager?

You'll Gain New High-Level Networking Contacts

The mere fact that your call will make a new computer industry executive aware of your capabilities will be a benefit since—even if he doesn't have a suitable IT management job opening—he can still be instrumental in leading you to one. A number of my clients have obtained jobs by cold-calling executives who were sufficiently impressed to refer them to colleagues who they knew were seeking candidates with their qualifications.

Let me guess—I've almost convinced you to try the telephone approach, but you have one nagging doubt: you wonder if you'll even have the opportunity to speak to executives because of two potential road blocks: voicemail and secretaries. This is a legitimate concern—and one I address in my book by suggesting steps you can take to significantly increase the likelihood that an executive will answer your call. And if you're unsure about how to identify potential employers, my book contains resources to help you find companies that meet your particular geographic, size, industry and other criteria, as well as identify IT executives and CEOs at your targeted employers. I also discuss six categories of employers that should be on the job-search "radar screen" for IT managerial job seekers.

For a sample of the many IT-specific job-search strategies you'll find in the book, check out my recent twelve-part interview on LinkedIn.

Lastly, if one of the options you've been considering is a career change from the IT profession, you'd benefit from reading my book, Debugging Your Information Technology Career: A Compass to New and Rewarding Fields that Value Computer Knowledge. I describe 20 career options where computer professionals desiring a change from a traditional IT career path can leverage—rather than waste—the investment in their education and experience. Both books in the Debugging Your Information Technology series can be purchased at the Elegant Fix Press website —