6 Steps To Strengthen Your CIO Resume

Trying to make the leap from IT director to CIO? Here's how to sell yourself on paper.

Wayne A. Brown, Contributor

May 14, 2014

4 Min Read

During my 14 years as an IT executive, I've sat on search committees and reviewed numerous resumes both as an executive building teams and as a resume consultant through my nonprofit organization, Center for Higher Education Chief Information Officer Studies (CHECS).

Search committees look at resumes quickly and separate them into two stacks: Next-round and eliminated. Your resume will likely have only a couple minutes to make a solid impression and go on to that all-important next round.

[IT skills are a given, but don't forsake communication and business savvy. Read 3 Non-Technical Skills IT Managers Should Hire For]

In my experience, I've seen common repeated mistakes by those trying to take the career-advancing step from technology director to CIO. Here are my top six strategies to help make that leap by strengthening your resume.

Write the resume for the job you want, not the job you have
Here's a frequent gaffe: An applicant fills the resume with too many details about what he or she does every day in his/her current job. That approach may tell the reviewer what you do, but then they have to connect the dots from how your day-to-day duties qualify you to lead an entire department. It neglects the objective: becoming a CIO.

Your resume should underscore the relevant accomplishments from your current position that specifically relate to a CIO position (or whatever job you're applying for). Highlight specific examples from your career experiences that demonstrate CIO proficiency. For example, if you're an infrastructure director, emphasize your leadership, governance, fiscal management, and service accomplishments. These are all key issues for CIOs.

Also, my higher education CIO studies over the last 10 years have shown that institution management teams are expecting CIOs to have an advanced degree. Having an undergraduate degree might get your foot in the door, but you may need to pull up your boot straps and work on a graduate degree if you want to become a higher education CIO.

Avoid jargon and overly techy details
IT groups may be impressed by your ability to discuss the pros and cons of solid state drives, but the search committee will probably include very few IT-minded members who will appreciate it. You may have an epic achievement, but if no one on the search committee understands the significance of it, it's meaningless.

The search committee and institution are looking for someone who can communicate with everyone, not just IT employees. Your resume should reflect your technical accomplishments, but also be clearly written enough that all committee members can appreciate those accomplishments. 

A resume is not a job description
A resume is a written synopsis of your career. You should have a short introductory description of your institution (including its size for perspective) and also your responsibilities. The intro should also include the budget you managed, the number of people you've led, and how many customers you've served. Those numbers bring weight and substance to your experience.

After the introductory section, discuss your accomplishments. If you want to be a college or university CIO, focus on CIO attributes like leadership, communication, governance, and higher education knowledge. Briefly describe how you can help the institution achieve its mission. Remember, technology is not the goal of the institution; it's a tool to help the institution achieve its mission. 

Write concise but substantive bullet points
Bullets should address what you did, how you did it, and the result. Describe the initiatives in ways that highlight skills needed for the CIO job. Use action words that say "I'm a leader." Discuss how you performed the initiatives in terms of project timing. Was it delivered early? Under budget? Were you the first person to accomplish it? Did you collaborate with faculty? It's important to include the results of your projects as much as possible. How did it help the institution? Use solid numbers, such as the project's budget and the number of people it helped.

Remember, all stakeholders matter
In the higher education sector, it's a good idea to highlight your work with students and faculty and how the initiatives you've led made their lives and work efforts better, easier, or more accessible. Discuss your work on committees and emphasize your understanding of healthy technology governance. A CIO must work effectively with a wide range of school stakeholders.

Don't forget the basics
Finally, have someone review your resume for mistakes, clarity, format consistency, and content. An extra set of eyes may pick out something simple you've overlooked.

Not everyone will have a technology background and reviewers will be looking for specific accomplishments that everyone can understand. Transforming your resume from average to stellar requires you to look at it from everyone else's perspective. 

These five higher education CIOs are driving critical changes in an industry ripe for digital disruption. Also in the Chiefs Of The Year issue of InformationWeek: Stop bragging about your Agile processes and make them better. (Free registration required.)

About the Author(s)

Wayne  A.  Brown


Wayne A. Brown is the founder of the Center for Higher Education Chief Information Officer Studies Inc, a non profit organization focused on contributing to the education and development of higher education CIOs. His longitudinal CIO effectiveness research has been published in EDUCAUSE Quarterly and EDUCAUSE Review, Public CIO, Leadership Abstracts, Campus Technology, and Gartner reports.

Wayne also serves as the Vice President for Extended Education at Excelsior College in Albany, NY. Prior to his current role, Wayne was the first Vice President for Information Technology at Excelsior College. Prior to joining Excelsior, he was the Executive Vice President for Administration at Johnson County Community College, Overland Park, KS. Brown is a retired US Air Force officer. He holds a Ph.D. in Computing Technology in Education from Nova Southeastern University and a Master’s of Business Administration with an emphasis in computer information systems from Wayland Baptist University, Plainview, Texas.

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