Could your company survive without a top-notch CIO?  Probably not, in reality your CIO’s experience touches every department in the organization and does much more than manage your databases and keep the computers running. CIOs enable knowledge sharing among teams. They collaborate with the sales department on sales automation and telecommuting initiatives. They work with your marketing department to build complex customer databases. They share information with your finance department on back-office systems. They assist with operations to streamline business processes and create better customer service systems. And when they have some free time, they are educating your other high-level executives about information technology and what it can do or cannot do for the company. Your company’s CIO is central to your organization’s success.




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As CIOs across the country take on more responsibility and become accountable for budgets ranging anywhere from $100 million to $1 billion, it’s imperative for company CEOs to take a more active role in their hiring process whether the CIO is a direct report or not. Often, CEOs choose to delegate much of the CIO recruitment process to their chief human resource director or other senior executives. The CEOs proclaim that they’re too busy to be a part of the hiring process, and they step in at the last minute to briefly meet the finalist other company executives have chosen.


Since your company’s success very often hinges on your CIO’s skills, taking an active role in deciding who will fill this critical position should be one of your top priorities. However, since many CEOs came up the ranks through the marketing or finance department, knowing how to choose a CIO can seem like a daunting task. What questions do you ask? What do you look for? How do you know which skills are pertinent? These and other questions make the recruitment   process difficult.


Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the stress that typically occurs when filling high-level positions. Below are simple ideas for any CEO to take a more active role in the CIO hiring process and select a candidate that will help your company reach the next level of business success.


1.  Meet the executive recruiting firm you’ll be working with.  In many instances, companies use an executive recruiting firm to fill high-level positions. Before allowing your human resource director to choose which firm to work with, meet the specific recruiter your company would have direct contact with. Since the recruiter is an extension of your company and is representing you to the marketplace, you want to be sure you’re working with someone you respect and believe in. Find out what the firm’s track record is, how many candidates they usually refer, how they verify that the candidates they refer are good matches for your company, and how long they’ve been in business. You want to be assured that this firm you’ll be partnering with for your human resource needs has similar business ethics as your company. Also, since you’ll be working intimately with your recruiter, you want to know that your personalities and work styles are in line.


Verify that your recruiter knows your industry, how to qualify candidates, and how to perform reference checks on potential candidates. Because there could be legal ramifications for checking references incorrectly, the firm you hire must know the protocol of reference checking and how to correctly handle the information they gather. Additionally, instead of simply checking formal references—those names the candidate supplies—be sure the recruitment firm has the ability to check informal references. These are people recruiters know in the industry who have worked with the candidates in the past. Is the recruiter you’re thinking of hiring able to get information about the candidate without letting the other person know it’s a reference check? If the recruiter can do this, you’ll have higher quality potential CIOs to choose from.


2. Actively participate in each candidate’s interview.  On average, most recruiting firms will refer five candidates to your company. When you take into consideration all your CIO does for the organization, taking the time to meet five people is a small investment in your company’s future. Additionally, as CEO, part of your job is to “sell” potential CIOs on your organization. When you take an active role in interviewing each candidate, you convey to the other person that you’re committed to the company and doing all you can to ensure the company’s success. The very best people will be attracted to that kind of dedication. 


Prior to meeting the potential CIO, have your recruiter develop a job description that outlines the new CIO’s responsibilities. Allow others on the executive team to review it and add their input. After you approve and sign the job description, gather your executive team together and plan how the interview process will go. Write out the questions you deem important and decide who will ask specific questions. This eliminates the candidate from being asked the same question from multiple people. Since most interview processes occur over a short time, you want to maximize the visit so you get the most useful information for making your decision.


Many CEOs often reveal that they’re unsure of what to ask potential CIOs during an interview. That’s why they leave the task to the human resource director or other company executives. In reality, as a CEO, you have the inside knowledge that can lead to asking the best questions and that probe the candidates about their experience. For example, if your company is currently experiencing a sales slump, you could ask, “In this company, we’re trying to increase our sales. Our sales department needs better information on our customers. Currently, we’re not tracking the historical data on customers or their buying patterns. We need a way to track this information more effectively. What have you done in your previous companies to help the sales force maximize each sale and develop better relations with customers?” This question is much more effective than simply asking, “Have you worked with databases?”


Based on the candidate’s answer, you’ll learn how he or she thinks and if the candidate can substantiate what’s written in his or her resume. Additionally, you can listen to whether the candidate uses “I” or “we” statements. You want a CIO who can marshal people and resources and build a team. You don’t want an egomaniac who will boast, “I did this…”


Once the formal office interview is over, take the most promising candidate(s) out to lunch or dinner. Since most people will loosen up when they’re off company premises, this will give you an opportunity to learn whether or not the candidate will fit the company’s culture. Find out what the candidate likes to do during his or her free time. For example, if your company supports community functions and expects employees to attend community events, such as softball games or gallery openings, you can learn whether or not the candidate also enjoys such functions and is willing to attend when necessary. The more you can find out about your potential CIO, the better off your organization will be.

Finally, have a process in place that allows you to give the recruiter feedback about the candidate in a timely manner. This allows the recruiter to refine the search if necessary. Additionally, most candidates expect feedback within 24 hours so they know where they stand with your company.


3. Initiate a mentorship program.  Because bringing in any new hire—especially at the executive level—costs companies a significant amount of money, progressive companies are taking a proactive approach to ensure their new CIO fits in with the company culture and is adequately prepared for the job responsibilities. It’s called a mentorship or coaching program, and it’s designed to keep the new hire failure rate at a minimum.


One approach to beginning a mentorship program is to hire an organizational psychologist who acts as a consultant to the company. The new executive can meet with the psychologist every week or two to talk about what he or she is experiencing. Your new executive can share his or her fears, concerns, and observations in a safe environment. The psychologist can then offer suggestions, support, and corrective action.


Other alternatives are to assign another top executive or human resource representative to meet with the new hire on a regular basis. The “mentor” can share advice and experience with the new executive and help him or her adjust to the company’s culture and procedures. Do this for one year and your company’s new hire failure rate, as well as turnover rate, will dramatically decrease.


When it comes to hiring a new CIO, many companies try hard but execute poorly. Too often the CEO neglects to take part in selecting the executive recruitment firm, does not actively participate in interviewing or meeting every candidate, and the company does little to ensure the new hire fits in. However, making a wrong hiring decision with a vital position such as the CIO can cost you your company. To keep this from happening with your organization, implement the above techniques into your hiring process and you can reduce the stress that comes with filling high-level positions.  The result will be a more successful workforce and higher profits for your organization.


Text Box: About the Author
Beverly Lieberman is President of Halbrecht Lieberman Associates, Inc. an internationally recognized executive search firm.  She is also a sought after speaker on information technology management issues.  Ms. Lieberman has successfully managed searches for communications, healthcare, high technology, management consulting, manufacturing, financial services, and retail companies.  Executive Recruiter News search professionals, recently honored her as one of the 50 leading retained and The Career Makers heralded her one of the nation’s top recruiters.  For more information, call 203-222-4890 or visit


Beverly Lieberman


Halbrecht Lieberman Associates, Inc.