Successful strategies for today

If you’re among the top CIOs – say, the upper 5 per cent to 10 per cent – you’ve probably emerged relatively unscathed from the downturn in the job market. After all, the top-tier CIOs who can deliver millions of dollars of value to multibillion-dollar Fortune 500 companies are always in demand.

Some CIOs are still commanding compensation packages with base salaries as high as US$250,000, healthy stock options and bonuses that are 25 per cent to 60 per cent of base pay, according to commentary from IT executive search professionals such as: Carl Gilchrist at Spencer Stuart Management Consultants NV in Atlanta; Barry Obrand, area manager at Russell Reynolds Associates Inc. in Palo Alto, Calif.; and Gloria Gordon, vice-president of the technology and e-business practice at A.T. Kearney Inc. in Los Angeles.

But if you’re a senior, experienced IT professional wondering why your CIO job search is stalled, be warned: There’s little spillover of high demand from that elite group to the 90 per cent below.

The number of companies with top-level openings has diminished. More candidates are available, and some are more qualified than others.

“If you’re someone who jumped up into a CIO role without the requisite level of seasoning, you’re probably finding yourself somewhat disenfranchised in this down market when a lot of good talent is available,” says Tom Thomas, president and CEO of Haht Commerce Inc. in Raleigh, N.C.

“This is a bare-bones market,” reports Paul Lemerise of Rancho Mirage, Calif., who has had senior IT and business responsibilities at True Value and “Where once there might have been over a hundred jobs available, now there might be less than 20. Where major projects might have been under way totalling millions of dollars, now capital spending and development projects are implemented on a ‘breathe air’ basis.”

So, if you’re a top-level IT manager who is on the market, what can you expect? Where should you look? How should you interview? And what will you be paid?

First, expect that your job search will take longer than your previous searches, and depend less on geography and more on your selected industry, which traditionally impacts job seekers earning less than US$100,000 per year.

“Although Wall Street bonuses are surely not what they used to be, finance – including insurance services and consumer finance companies – energy and health care still remain very strong,” says Obrand.

And while jobs in government and education may be harder to identify, these fields are growing technology users, though taking that route might make returning to mainstream commercial IT more difficult.

Second, recruiters are again being flooded with r