IT careers: Should you be an SVP?

These days, some tech leaders are sporting more than one title on their business card. We explore the ins and outs of adding a few letters after C-I-O.

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Besides building a broad base of learning and a diversity of experience, Holley advises that those interested in a dual role find a mentor. "You want someone who is on a different ladder, not someone who is one or two rungs above you on the same ladder," she says. For her, that was the head of sales at Waste Management, a man she met in the middle of her career. "We were opposites but we both stretched the other out of our comfort zones."

Getting the title you want

In a hot market, titles can be negotiated more freely than in the past, says Suzanne Fairlie, president of ProSearch, an executive search firm based in Philadelphia. She recalls a recent placement she facilitated for a mid-sized multistate company. The candidate under consideration, who would be reporting to the CFO, was offered a job as VP of IT. The candidate wanted the position, but wasn't satisfied with the offer, holding out for CIO to be added to his title. "The job was the same," Fairlie says. "But having the dual title made all the difference to this person."

Modis' Ripaldi sees companies becoming more amenable to such title negotiations. "We're in the midst of a talent war," Ripaldi says. "With the booming market and people landing multiple job offers, you'll see companies getting more flexible with titles."

But companies that don't institute clear rules for titles can end up with trouble on their hands, Ripaldi adds. "Without a disciplined approach, employees can get distracted, and that leads to low productivity and low morale," he said. Like karate belts, job titles should follow a clear (if not necessarily color-coded) progression that's "well thought out and clearly communicated," he says.

Ripaldi notes that older, more staid professions like finance and manufacturing tend toward more rigid job title structures. Newer industries, including tech-based organizations, often have more fluid titles -- at times forgoing titles altogether. However, as industries progress, titles tend to "grow up" he says -- people like and need to know where they stand in relation to one another.

To some people, however, fussing over titles is just a distraction.

"Titles are overrated," says Sean Chatterton, VP of digital development at Direct Brands Inc. His path to VP-dom came about through a larger management transition. In 2008, a shuffling of leadership created a VP title where none had existed before. His business card changed -- formerly, he'd been associate director -- but his role and responsibilities did not.

Or at least, not immediately. "When I got the VP title, frankly, it was a little inflated," Chatterton says. "But now the job has grown. It's now a more accurate reflection of the title than it was back then."

In the end, however, Chatterton believes that the information gleaned from a few letters tacked on after a name is vanishingly thin compared to what you can find out by taking "one minute to look at a resume and see what someone has actually done."

"If someone is in charge in IT, they're a significant player in strategy and tactics. I don't think tacking on an SVP title changes anything," Chatterton says. "But if you have institutional issues, where IT is just a service and not integral to the business and part of every strategy meeting, that won't be fixed with a title change. It will be fixed with leadership. It's not a title problem; it's an institutional problem."

Mike Capone would agree: Having a double-barreled title is all to the good -- but only if you're deploying both of them to the same end. Capone, currently corporate vice president and CIO at ADP Inc., started his career as a programmer. But he knew that his ultimate goal was, as he puts it, "to become a business-focused IT professional."

"I didn't wake up every morning and say, 'How do I get a job as a VP?' It was always, 'How do I make life interesting?'" Capone says. After earning an MBA at night, he went to work at a branch of ADP implementing Oracle Financial Accounting systems. He spent 15 years in IT, then left to become a general manager for global outsourcing with the title senior vice president. It all came together in 2008 at ADP when he was offered the role of CVP/CIO.

"The bottom line is that your capability in a company isn't judged by how many servers you manage. Your credibility comes from your ability to leverage IT for the business," Capone says.

Wilkinson, a Lexington, Va., writer, last wrote for Computerworld about Worst -- and best -- interview questions for IT.

This article, IT leadership: Should you be an SVP? was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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