Demonstrate your business skills to win over the CIO headhunters

Many of the most coveted IT director positions are filled through headhunters, but what skills and experience are they looking...

Many of the most coveted IT director positions are filled through headhunters, but what skills and experience are they looking for? And how can IT directors attract their attention?

At last month's meeting of the Computer Weekly 500 Club, Cathy Holley, a partner at headhunting firm Boyden UK, outlined four key attributes head- hunters look for in an IT director.

lCan you demonstrate leadership, rather than just showing you have read the books? IT directors should give an example of the leadership skills they have shown in their current job.

Holley said, "Do not tell me, 'I manage by walking about.' That is not outstanding. Show me you can motivate your troops. Show me leadership in a time of crisis."

lDo you understand business and not just IT? "Chief executives want CIOs to have commercial acuity, not the ability to implement SAP in 90 countries in six weeks," said Holley.

"Show me something you have done that has transformed the business of your organisation, not the IT. And know your numbers - if you have no idea of your organisation's turnover and profitability, it is thank you and goodbye."

lCan you influence the right people in your business? "This is not just about presenting a good business case. This is about being able to persuade someone to get into shark-infested water. Can you, for example, persuade the chairman to can a pet project?" said Holley.

lCan you think strategically? "This is different from planning a five-year project to move off AS400s," she said.

"Can you demonstrate to me that you have come up with something innovative for your business, such as a new product, service or way of pricing which depends on using IT differently"

But how can IT directors acquire these skills? One option is to get coaching from consultancies specialising in management and communication skills.

Another option is for IT directors to raise their profile within the industry by joining an IT networking group such as the Impact Programme or CIO Connect. "The top CIOs network 50% of their time," said Holley.

Roderick Angwin, former CIO at retailer B&Q, advised speaking at conferences, joining peer group organisations and working with the press and headhunters.

He said, "Create your opportunities. Headhunters need to know you. If a headhunter calls, nurture the relationship with them even if you are not interested in the role they are offering at that point. Help them find someone who is."

The market for top CIO jobs is extremely competitive, but Angwin offered some consolation for senior job seekers.

"Many people out there are not outstanding - so if you are, you are in great shape for a top role."

How to get noticed by headhunters   

  • Demonstrate leadership within the general business, not just management of IT staff 
  • Demonstrate commercial knowledge and acuity. Know your firm's turnover and profitability 
  • Show you can influence people - even if that may mean telling them they are wrong 
  • Think strategically. This does not just include planning technology roll-outs, but changing the way your firm does business. 

Source:Cathy Holley, Boyden UK

Best Places to Work in IT Awards

Read more on IT technical skills