C-Suite Best Practices

Hiring a Chief Information Officer (CIO): 4 Mistakes to Avoid, 6 Traits to Find

Hiring a Chief Information Officer (CIO) is more critical than ever. The cost is too great to fail. 4 mistakes in particular add up to a costly hire. 6 often overlooked traits are exactly what you are looking for in your next CIO.

Scott Smeester


March 11, 2021

Photo credit:
Mike Erskine
“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.”
- Michael Jordan, NBA legend

Experts estimate that it will cost you 278 hours in hiring time and three times the salary of the CIO if you have to rehire because of a bad hire.

Let’s avoid that.

Of all the hires a CEO will make, the CIO is the trickiest. Technology is foundational to the business, and technology changes rapidly. It is the final frontier, and continues to be a space where no one has gone before.

In my work with CIO Mastermind, I talk often with CEOs who look to hire and CIOs looking to be hired. Here is what I have discovered.

4 hiring mistakes to avoid

  1. Assume too much. CEOs and their team assume they know what they need in a CIO. The list of traits are often generated from within the company or gathered from surface research of how the role of the CIO is changing. Before a CIO hire, interview other CIOs to inform you in real-time the qualities you need to look for in general and specific to your company. (CIO Mastermind can help you with that).
  2. Race to hire. The temptation to fill a vacant CIO role is stronger than other vacancies. Technology needs are daily, and business goals are driven by technology solutions. Internal and external customers need answers yesterday, and technology issues have that much more urgency attached to them.
  3. Confirmation bias. Because the typical CEO is less familiar with technology, they look for other traits that appeal to them (such as likability), and upon finding them, overlook other warning signs.
  4. Distant report structure. The CIO needs to direct-report to the CEO. Please and period.

6 traits to find and hire

  1. Teacher. Specifically, CEO, can you learn from them? The CIO translates technology into business strategy. As part of your hiring process, have candidates teach you something you have needed to know. See if they can take a complex subject, educate you on it, and tie it to business strategy.
  2. Security first mindset. The CIO does not need to be a security specialist, but they must be security minded foremost. The CIO who is enthralled with the newest technology or is always thinking business strategy, but is not promoting security, is inviting undetected intrusion.
  3. Financial intelligence. Naturally, the CIO does not need to equal the financial savvy of the CFO. Absence of an MBA doesn’t even need to be a barrier. But they do need to understand the fundamentals of forecasting, analysis and adjustments.
  4. Right motivation. Motivations are easy to disguise. Use a modified form of behavioral interviewing. Find as many examples as possible where a candidate can name personal and professional values and tie a past story or outcome to them. Resume alone is not enough; behavior alone is not enough; talking about motivation is definitely not enough. Tie a why to a what.
  5. Empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand another’s situation from their point of view. It is the necessary bridge in cooperative work. Per the Michael Jordan quote at the top of the page, empathy facilitates the teamwork and intelligence essential to championship level results. How has the CIO worked with other leaders and team members in the past to understand context and point of view?
  6. Leadership chops. The CIO needs to be able to rally people. Change is more constant in technology than any other business unit. They must be able to craft strategy and action, and they must drive to result.

The reasonable CEO will conclude that based on future considerations, (s)he will be, and should be, working with the CIO as closely or more than other C-suite executives.

You can’t afford to not get this hire right.

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