The Job-Hunting Abyss

When it comes to changing careers, sometimes you have to leap and trust you'll land smoothly. But the process itself can be enervating

One of the most challenging aspects of the CIO's career is finding another job. It's a personal journey upon which I've recently embarked, and the strategy I pursued was a particularly risky one. I left my previous job before finding a new one.

I decided to leave because I felt I had accomplished the goals I set out to accomplish when I started at the company seven years before. At my last presentation of IT's strategic plan, the president of one of the operating groups noted that the divisions between business and IT had been totally erased and the IT organisation was nationally ranked among the top 500 in the country. We had accomplished all this while holding IT spending flat for four years. So why leave? Bottom line, success had bred boredom, and I didn't want to spend the next 12 years or so until my retirement in that state. By nature, I don't enjoy a maintenance role.

While it is logical to assume that one should find a new job before leaving the old one, I quickly discovered that that strategy would have significant financial impact. It would mean walking away from substantial wealth accumulated through stock grants and options that had not fully vested. The golden handcuffs were securely in place and quite effective.

I had a choice to make: I could accept the situation and try desperately to survive for another dozen years till retirement (something I've seen others do but dreaded for myself), or I could do something about it. I decided to discuss the situation with my boss, admittedly a risky strategy.

Fortunately, I worked for a company with a sense of what is morally right. The company presented me with a separation agreement that far exceeded what it was legally bound to do. Every major issue was addressed, including salary and benefit continuation, allowing my stock options to run to term, and a special amount to cover my being seven weeks shy of the full vesting of my retirement benefits. I was blown away, and the only one happier was the tax man (he got a lion's share of the benefits).

Pushing the Noodle

A job search is all about networking, which translates into letting as many people as possible know that you're looking and what specifically you're looking for. For me, that was the easy part. I wanted a CIO position with a major company where I would have the opportunity to make a strategic contribution and ply the trade I love. I told my story to everyone I know, including the local CIO forum, acquaintances in trade associations, contacts at executive recruiters (better if you know the individual), friends, family and now you.

What they don't tell you is that the process is like pushing a noodle uphill. As a CIO, my daily schedule might have included six to eight meetings, dozens of phone calls and even more e-mails. It typically started at 8:15 in the morning and ended around 6 in the evening. A typical day of job searching might entail several phone calls, several substantive e-mails (plus lots of junk mail to sort through), and on a good day an interview. I get to my office at the outplacement firm around 9am, and I have basically done what I can do by noon. I've grown to hate the slowness of the process.

In addition to being slow, searching is an emotional roller coaster. Through a colleague in a trade association, I learned of a CIO opening at a company in my industry - publishing. I then discovered that my future son-in-law's father is a close friend of several senior executives at the company. Within days I received a call from the executive recruiter telling me that my name had bubbled up to the top of their list of prospective candidates. At that point I was on a high. The position sounded like the perfect fit.

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