How to read ads for CIO jobs

Tired of applying for the wrong positions? Here's how to tell if this one is right for you.

If you've ever devoted hours to polishing your résumé and crafting a compelling cover letter only to realize during a job interview that the position wasn't so perfect after all, you've probably wished that you'd had some way to tell from the job description that the position wasn't right for you.

Well, you can get a good sense of what a job is really about from the description in an advertisement. You just have to learn -- partly through experience and partly by being attuned to the language hiring managers use in job ads and the emphasis they place on certain skills and requirements -- to become a critical reader of job ads.

By carefully reading job descriptions and looking for certain red flags, such as information about budget and management responsibilities that may be left out, you can better determine the work environment you may be getting yourself into, whether the job is worth applying for, and what skills and experiences are most important to highlight on your résumé and cover letter to be considered for the job.

To help you read between the lines of ads for CIO jobs, CIO.com enlisted Sam Gordon and Phil Rosenberg for their expertise. Gordon, who has worked as an executive recruiter for 11 years, directs Harvey Nash Executive Search's CIO practice. In this position, Gordon is constantly reading, writing and evaluating descriptions for CIO positions, as well as candidates' résumés. Rosenberg worked as a recruiter for 25 years before starting his own firm, ReCareered, which provides coaching and résumé-writing services to job seekers.

Gordon and Rosenberg analyzed an advertisement for a vice president of IT/CIO position that CIO.com picked at random from CIO Wanted ad earlier this year. (CIO.com replaced the company's name with a generic one, Household Products Manufacturer, to protect the company's identity.) We copied the ad below, and Gordon and Rosenberg share what they think is unusual or notable about the job to give you a sense of what to look for and how to read job descriptions for IT leadership positions. They reveal that the requirements that aren't stated in an ad often say as much about the role as the requirements that are included.

Position:

VP of information technology/CIO Household Products Manufacturer Midwestern U.S.

Job description:

Household Products Manufacturer is a leading manufacturer and distributor of household products and has been ranked by local and national media as one of the best places to work. Household Products Manufacturer is looking for a vice president of information technology/CIO to be located at our corporate headquarters.

This person must direct and manage computing and information technology, strategic planning, policies, programs, and schedules for business and finance data processing. Responsible for computer servers, network communications and management information services to accomplish corporate goals and objectives. Must have PeopleSoft implementation experience -- 9.0 preferred.

This isn't a very compelling job description, says Gordon, especially in a competitive market for talent. It makes the role appear perfunctory and doesn't give the applicant a compelling reason to apply for the job, he adds.

Experience and Knowledge:

  • Lead PeopleSoft 9.0 upgrade to ensure project's deliverables are achieved on time, on budget and ROI is achieved.

The fact that experience with a specific release of a specific software package is the first requirement indicates to Gordon that this company may not be looking for a true CIO but rather someone to manage the PeopleSoft implementation.

Rosenberg thinks the PeopleSoft implementation may already be in flames or that the company's management is concerned about the project getting off-track due to the emphasis the ad puts on on-time, on-budget delivery. Rosenberg says companies often decide to upgrade from an IT manager who just runs the networks to a true CIO or vice president of technology when a major project is off-track.

  • Integrate and maintain multiple software environments including WMS, Oracle, e-commerce and portal development.

"This role sounds like it is more involved in tactical projects than it is a true information officer leadership position," says Gordon.

  • Develop and implement technology initiatives to support company initiatives and profitability goals.
  • Develop business process improvements designed to achieve business and customer demands.
  • Partner with executive team on strategic planning on products as it pertains to technology and enhance performance metrics and revenue targets.
  • Assess company infrastructure (SWOT) and recommend and deliver solutions within budget and in a timely manner. Plan, design and direct information systems, including all aspects of application development and integration, infrastructure, networks, installation, maintenance and operations.

"SWOT is a provocative word to use in a job ad," says Gordon, referring to "strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats." He says the term suggests that management may be concerned about the infrastructure's ability to support the current business or scale with future business needs.

  • Integrate multiple applications across a broad infrastructure, including content management systems, content-distribution networks and e-commerce systems.

"The [tactical] requirements look inconsistent with the title," says Rosenberg.

  • Partner with functional management teams to develop and deliver IT solutions and operate as a support function to them.
  • With existing personnel, maintain e-mail, telephony, desktop support, internet and other operations and communication tools, ensuring maximum performance in 24/7 environment. Support three U.S. locations and China office.

This requirement makes the CIO job look like an upgraded IT manager, says Rosenberg. "They're looking for a CIO, but the terms they use describe a hands-on manager," he says. Rosenberg thinks the company's IT manager may have left or isn't capable of leading the PeopleSoft project, so the company has created a CIO position.

  • Define technical standard and establish and administer best practices, tools, documentation and security.
  • Other requests as specified from time to time by your manager to support company objectives.
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