How To Spot The Bull In A Chief Information Officer (CIO) Candidate: 5 Quick Tips

Jan 27, 2015 | Forbes

By Sal DiFranco

Forbes_logo_new_022615.jpgMisrepresentation isn’t reserved for entry-level interviewees. Chief Information Officer (CIO) candidates can exaggerate their accomplishments with the best of them. Let’s say you and your fellow C-suite executives need to hire a CIO. You know what you want – that picture-perfect ideal CIO candidate. Someone who is current on technology while being business savvy. Someone who takes smart risks when it comes to new technology, but who has insight on when to maintain the systems already in place. Someone who can talk to any segment of the business in their own terms, rather than resorting to technical jargon.

Of course, when interviewing CIO candidates, they will all try to make you believe they are that ideal CIO. It is up to you to identify any bull that get tossed around during the interview process, which is why I’ve come up with five specific points to watch out for.

CIO Strike 1: Hiding behind Delegation

When talking about specific projects the CIO candidate has worked on, you want to know whether or not the candidate was leading or delegating the work. If the CIO architected the project, hired all the people, and can talk about the work intimately, you have someone who was close to the project. This denotes knowledge, skill, and expertise. If they delegated all the work, that’s a red flag, because you can’t be sure they have what it takes to lead a project themselves. You want a CIO who truly understands the inner workings of their projects. A “hands off” approach is not the sign of a true leader.

CIO Strike 2: No Success Stories to Share

If a CIO candidate talks about all of the projects that were started under his/her direction, but can’t discuss completed projects, there are multiple red flags being waved. Why are so many new projects being opened? Does this indicate a lack of vision and direction? Why aren’t older projects being completed? Does this indicate a lack of planning and execution? If there are no success stories, don’t even consider the CIO candidate. You don’t want your company to be inundated with “brilliant” new projects that never reap a return on investment.

CIO Strike 3: Managing Up Instead of Down

CIOs are part of the C-suite in the company, and the people they report to are pretty high up on the company hierarchy. But if the CIO only cares about enhancing relationships with fellow C-suite management and board level personnel while not paying equal attention to their direct reports, that’s another red flag. If they are spending so much time managing up, it tells me they are creating risk in the organization because they aren’t making the time to understand – and appreciate the contributions of – the whole organization.

CIO Strike 4: Comfort with the Status Quo

During the recession, IT budgets stagnated. CIOs couldn’t spend money on new infrastructure: their job was just to keep the system running during this rough time. The problem now is that we’ve seen a boom in technology since the recession days, but the old-school maintenance CIO hasn’t kept up and isn’t willing or able to introduce new technology to the company. If you find a CIO candidate telling you how they keep the business running but they can’t tell you how they are actually improving the business by leveraging new technology, you probably want to move on to the next candidate. A maintenance CIO today means stagnation for your business.

CIO Strike 5: Bells and Whistles Addiction

The opposite of the maintenance CIO is the CIO who is caught up with all of the bells and whistles of new technology. Often, these CIOs are with companies that have lots of money to spend on technology, and the CIOs don’t hesitate to leap right in and try everything. The problem is that they are more concerned with the technology itself rather than the return on investment of the technology. They want to be pioneers in technology, which isn’t a bad thing … unless it is at the expense of your company’s present and future well-being.

As technology moves forward and becomes more integrated in the overall business model, the CIO needs to be a business leader as much as an information technology leader. They need to understand the business side as well as the technology side of every equation. By cutting through the bull in your CIO candidate interviews, you will be able to find someone who is committed to working on this holistic approach to technology infrastructure and business intelligence.

Sal DiFranco has nearly 28 years in the search profession and has completed more than 500 technology searches. He leads the CIO & Global Technology Practice for DHR International. He has conducted a broad range of C-level assignments, including searches for Chief Technology Officers, Chief Executive officers, Chief Operating Officers, Chief Data Officers, Chief Information Officers and Digital Marketing & Media Executives.

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