How Not to Hire a CIO

hiring.pngSadly, today’s post is going to be comprised of “YARS”, or Yet Another Recruiting Story. The one really good thing about being “in transition”, is that I am never at a loss for recruiting stories! Today we are going to explore how NOT to go about hiring a CIO, CTO, or other types of technology executives.

The other day, a colleague of mine forwarded a rather interesting Atlanta-based CIO opportunity. This particular opportunity was for a $20-25M logistics company focusing on the railroad industry. One of the key requirements was some experience working within either the logistics, railroad, or supply chain industries. Since I have some supply chain experience in my background, I thought I would toss my name into the proverbial hat and learn a bit more about what they were doing.

Now I should point out that from what the job description stated, this firm needs some serious help. They’ve gone from $6M to $25M in 4 years, and as a result of that rapid growth, their technology systems are, well, quite “varied.” They have 5 different platforms, and my guess is, its all held together with bubble gum and bailing wire. Hence, their need for someone to come in and straighten out the mess, and position them for growth by consolidation and migration.

I sent the recruiter a nice but succinct introductory email, along with my resume. She replied to me several days later with a rather interesting email. In this email, she pasted a lengthy questionnaire, along with some instructions.

I took a quick look at the first few questions, and they seemed routine enough, so I thought I would take some time to compose a nice response. Given that recruiters can quickly become overwhelmed with candidates (and also having personally hired hundreds of candidates over the years), I completely understand the various screening techniques that they use.

NOTE: Be sure to ANSWER all the questions below, as well as:

*where you LIVE NOW…local Atlanta candidates will be given FIRST consideration!!

*when you are available to interview,

*when you are available to start and

Your MINIMUM annual salary requirements.

Now the questions above seemed pretty innocuous. These are all standard fare when it comes to any job interview.

** Experience in transportation, logistics, rail, distribution or supply-chain industries is absolutely required for this position.If interested, write back with the number of years of experience and a brief explanation of that specific experience in each of the following:

# Years in logistics software (name of software)
# Years in supply chain software (name of software)
# Years in railroad
# Do you consider yourself an expert in Microsoft Project, Excel, Access, Word, PowerPoint?
# EDUCATION: from where? in what?


Please go through this technology…and let me know how much experience you have in each:
# .Net
# ADO.Net
# ASP.Net
# BEAM Resources
# C#
# Crystal Reports
# JavaScript
# Oracle Database
# PowerBuilder PFC
# SQL Server database
# VBScript
# Visual Basic

**NOTE: Also be SURE that if you have a particular experience from the above listing..that you have reflected that technology under the specific job(s) where you used it on you resume…not just in your technical skills section!

However, as I progressed further into the list of questions, it became readily apparent to me that the person sourcing this role (or at least the person who put together these questions) had little understanding of the way that executives are hired. Curious, I did a little more research on the company that the recruiter works for, and the haze quickly vanished as I realized that she worked for a body shop (staff augmentation firm). Now it made perfectly good sense. She simply didn’t know any better. Sending out these questionnaires is how she routinely hires IT staffers for her clients. Nothing wrong with it – it makes perfectly good sense in that arena. However, it doesn’t translate well into the executive space.

Trust me when I say that you don’t need to know how many “years of experience” a CIO has with HTML, or whether or not they have direct experience in two dozen other technologies (which is what this questionnaire asked). Technology executives need to understand 3 things about a given technology: what it does, what it costs, how it integrates. They don’t need to have memorized all of the attributes of HTML table tags or CSS options.

In order to make this post a bit more fun, I sent this job description to a retained executive recruiter who is an associate of mine, and asked him to rewrite the job description. This is what he sent back:


Scott, this one is bad. Real bad. Very unprofessional.

First, we push our clients to write the job description. That way we can validate what they asked for. However, probably half we have to write for them.

Couple of things to look for at first and avoid …

  1. Any job opportunity with out a compensation range is a red flag
  2. Any job opportunity which point out negative aspects of the job – “Downtown” , “fallen by the wayside”
  3. Any C-level opportunity that talks about parking dollars or riding Marta hints that it is very small
  4. Any C-level opportunity that list detailed low level requirements that our required

The following is a big sign that this is being handled by a non-executive recruiter:

Also provide me with your availability to interview, when you would be available to start and your minimum salary requirement. When you are available to interview, when you are available to start and Your MINIMUM annual salary requirements.

… all that before they have even spoken with you!

OK here goes the rewrite. This is difficult because I don’t know what the client is really looking for …

Position: CIO
Location: Atlanta, GA
Compensation: $150k-$200k

A world-class provider of Logistics and Supply Chain software products is looking to fill a CIO position. This client provides Logistics Management and integrated Supply Chain tracking systems to customers on five continents. The client has been in an accelerated growth mode and is looking for a leader who can set strategy and bring structure to an organization which has grown very rapidly. The CIO will be responsible for an organization that manages a variety of technologies such as … Visual Basic, Crystal Reports, .Net, Oracle, IIS and ASP, PowerBuilder/PFC, XML, XSL, JavaScript, VBScript, HTML, and DHTML.


If you are interested or know someone who might be, please call us at …

What a difference!

At any rate, this is what can happen when you let a body shop staff your CIO role. If you are in the market for a CIO, CTO, or some other technology executive, you owe it to yourself to partner with a recruiter or firm that specializes in handling executive-level hires. Retained firms are the best, but more expensive. Many contingency-based firms can also handle your requests with skill and care. If you insist on going with a body shop to find your CIO/CTO/Tech VP, take some time to review their process – make sure that they are looking for the right things – the things that will matter to you in the end.

By not doing so, you run the risk of running off decent candidates, and fostering the perception that your firm isn’t serious about its executive-level technology hires.



  1. Armando Cuevas · April 25, 2006 at 8:40 am


    As usual GREAT article – and a great web site…

    So, did you get the job?…. :O) (as if you would have wanted it anyway, right)

  2. Hi there, Armando.

    Actually, the position sounds exciting. I love the thrill of the turnaround. The consolidation, as it were.

    I withdrew my name from consideration for this position, given the above. Too many red flags in the sourcing process for my blood.


  3. Here is another resource that some my find to be of interest.  An article entitled “The Right Process for Hiring a CIO“, by Don Curt. This has more to do with my issue of CIOs and domain experience, but it applies here as well, I think.

    Thanks to Armando for forwarding that article to me as well!


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