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What CFOs and CEOs look for when hiring a CIO

Over the past 30 years, I have worked with hundreds of CFOs and CEOs to find the perfect CIO to add to their organization.

This has resulted in looking at hundreds of CIOs resumes, backgrounds, and previous experience.

First hand, I learned WHY candidates were rejected, accepted, and which ones were hired. 

I found 9 commonalities among them and gained valuable insight as to how to shorten the time to become a CIO. 

Interested in learning more about what exactly CFOs and CEOs look for when pursuing to hire for a CIO? Below I have listed the 9 commonalities I have found with CIO’s  I have helped.  

The 9 Attributes that CFOs and CTO look for when hiring a CIO:

1. Proven ability to align business strategies to IT execution. 

Aligning the CEOs short term and long term business growth strategy is one of the key elements to the CIO suite. There are four main ways you can work on aligning business strategies to IT execution that CEOS specifically look for.

  1. Prior or current experience presenting IT projects initiatives to the board of directors or CEOs, CFOs, and COOs on a routine basis.
  2. Articulating a proven track record of bringing in enterprise IT initiatives at or under budget. 
  3. Lead both application development and infrastructure/IT operations at some point in one’s career.
  4. Innativiate solutions to routine business processes by automating and cutting costs to impact the bottom line. 

2. Ability to communicate complex IT challenges in business terms

CFOs look for CIOs who have the ability to communicate information technology challenges into common business languages. In other words, taking complex technical talk and communicating it into terms that executives with non-technical backgrounds can understand. This skill takes a lot of practice. Three great ways to start is by: 

  1. Presenting at well-attended conferences on big wins initiatives within your own organization.
  2. Joining toastmasters or other professionals organizations in order to polish one’s technical communication skills to the general audience.
  3. Hiring/investing in a business coach who has experience in where you want to take you career. This could be a retired executive, an executive coaching organization or a more formalized mentorship that you may already be under. 

3. Prior experience leading both application development and infrastructure departments for project management.

CIOs need experience managing both application and infrastructure experiences. Once when you have both you are in a position to market yourself to be a CIO. 

The real question is, how do you make the switch between application and infrastructure? 

Oftentimes, transferring from application to infrastructure or vice versa can be a difficult and politically changalling event. Some ideas in making this transition include educating yourself first through online classes, certifications, or formal technical training. Another suggestion is to volunteer for positions that are outside your comfort zone but good for your career.

4. Experience in IT governance and risk management

If you’re an aspiring CIO, it is essential to have an understanding of IT governance and risk management. This will typically occur in the middle of your career.

To ensure you will have IT governance and risk management experience, about ten years or so into your career make sure the company you are with has the opportunities for you to learn about IT governance and risk management. 

One of the best ways to prove to your managers that you really are serious in getting experience and learning about IT governance is to read a few books about IT governance. After reading a book or two, share what you learned with your colleagues. 

A great book to start off with is Executive’s Guide to IT Governance by Robert R. Moeller, which can be purchased on Amazon here.

5. Leadership Skills 

CIOs contain the ability to be both a good manager and a great motivating leader. A great CIO is someone who can comprehend an IT project plan, understand, and follow the budget and then communicate big-picture goals.

This requires both hard and soft skills. Many very technical IT professionals lack the soft skills needed to become a CIO. 

To acquire these soft skills start socializing outside the work day with the executives. That could be inviting an executive for dinner or play golf or whatever the executive hobbies include.

You can also read some of my favorite books to speed up the process. Stress-Free Small Talk: How to Master the Art of Conversation and Take Control of Your Social Anxiety by Richad S. Gallagher is great in this category. You can order the book on amazon here.

Additionally, one of my all time favorite books that everyone should take the time to read that helps speed up the process of developing your leadership skills is Dale Carnegie’s book How to win Friends and Influence People. You can order the book on Amazon here.

6. Complete a bachelor’s degree in computer science or an ITrelated field.

Getting your bachelors degree in computer science or an IT related field is an essential requirement to become a CIO. However, in regards to higher education, to have a masters in computer science or management information systems is a plus, but is not required. 

I haven’t noticed a direct correlation of having a masters degree or an MBA in becoming a CIO. There are more important experiences that we will talk about later. However, if a MBA or a masters degree is something you want to pursue, a good time would be the first five years or so after you completed your undergraduate degree. 

7. Technical and Industry Knowledge

CIOs must be up to date with industry, technical, and business knowledge. To do this, follow blogs related to your industry and high-tech CIO blogs to start to learn the CIO lingo. 

My favorite CIO blog to read is the Issac Sacolick blog. Socalick is a successful CIO and writes about digital transformation, innovation, agile, and data science programs related to the CIO field. 

Another big part of becoming a CIO is to learn about how the business side operates with your company or industry.

How do you learn to understand the business side?

Getting an MBA is a great way or taking financial management sources in the evenings/weekends.

An executive coaching on business acumen and also by reading business case studies related to IT or ideally your industry are great ways to understand the operations/business side of your organization.

8. Have a burning desire to make a difference in a organization

Being a CIO requires dedication and persistence. Most CIOs are on call 24/7 and the amount of personal sacrifice that comes with being a CIO isn’t for everyone.

You can prove to a CEO or CFO that you are willing to make the sacrifice by having a proven dedication in working weekends and longer hours than most to deliver the project under the business guidelines.

How you communicate on a daily basis to the C-level executives you may report to is important as well. The way you talk about your jobs is a way you can protaorty your desire to grow. 

Being recognized by your peers and outside companies in your expertise in being known within your industry as the subject matter expert (SME).

9. Motivation/ Public Speaking Skills 

The ability to inspire and lead your information technical team is a critical skill a CIO must obtain.

CFOs and CEOs look for experience in public speaking, and can establish if you are a proficient speaker based on your social skills.

CFOs and CEOs look for experience in public speaking, and can establish if you are a proficient speaker based on your social skills.

CFOs and CEOs want CIOs to have the ability to communicate various goals and objectives to the IT department. This then can motivate the IT team to achieve the company’s goals. 

To become a better public speaker and communicator, I have found that spending time at local meetups or to take a lead role in your company is a great way to get started!

Bonus: How to cut the time from being a IT director to a CIO

The CIOs that I have placed who were able to achieve this major career advancement faster than others all worked at smaller companies prior.

If your job title at a smaller IT shop is “IT director”, this role would have lots of overlap with what a CIO would do at a larger IT shop. This gives you many of the skills CFOs and CEOs look for in a shorter period of time.

In essence, the timeline is shorter at smaller companies. Spending time working at a smaller IT shop is a great way to get your foot in the door as a c-level executive. 


In summary, the 9 commonalty I found that CFOs and CEOs looks for when hiring a CIO include:

  1. Have the ability to align business strategies to IT execution. 
  2. Ability to take complex IT challenges and communicate them to upper level executives.
  3. Have experience learning both application development and infrastructure departments in project management. 
  4. Have experience in IT governance and risk management.
  5. Have strong leadership skills which involves both hard and soft skills.
  6. Complete your bachelors degree in computer science or an IT related field. It is not required to have a MBA or masters.
  7. Have strong technical, industry, and business operations knowledge.
  8. Have a burning desire to make a difference in the organization.
  9. The ability to communicate various goals and objectives to the IT department and then to motivate your team to achieve the company’s goals.

Currently, I’m working on a really exciting IT Director opportunity where you would essentially be the CIO for this organization.
This is an exclusive opportunity that you can’t find on any job boards or meetup groups. If you are interested in learning more about this please click Here.