Deb Brown on Piloting the CIO Career Path
"Don't ever let your organization think it's simply a stepping-stone. Of course, a lot of times clients will say, 'We're okay being used as a stopover for three to five years. We'd rather be a stop along the way for a great candidate than a final resting place for a mediocre one.' But beyond that, CIOs and people wanting to become CIOs need to be seen to be focused on helping the institution they're at, not just their own careers. I have seen investment professionals spending a lot of time promoting themselves, or looking to start a new business at the expense of their current employer—outsourced-CIO businesses being the common example—and that's not what I recommend. Of course, there are smart ways to highlight your abilities without being nakedly self-promotional: Being highlighted in publications, being helpful resources to recruiters in the space, receiving industry awards, writing thought pieces, authoring articles, and speaking on panels are all ways to get on the radar in an understated and sophisticated way.
Don't be a job-hopper. I wouldn't point to it as a hard rule, but I would say that while you probably don't want to work for one employer your entire career, you also don't want to move every three years. Too much movement will scare prospective employers; they may wonder why you'd ever stay with their organization. Over the course of a 20-year career, three or four roles seem fine. You want to stay long enough to be able to show you've had an impact; you want to really put down some roots and demonstrate success. Of course, measured success can take years to unfold, and sometimes it is hard to point to a performance record and say, 'That's mine, I did that'—especially if you're not yet the CIO. One way to overcome this, especially for younger professionals, is to also focus on the qualitative. Make up for your CIOs drawbacks, put processes in place, bridge silos, plug holes.
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