outside the IT department. It can be done, but according to experts, certain areas that lend themselves especially well to the transfer of skills.
Here are the seven top career paths for transitioning IT execs.
1. Marketing. Operating in an IT organization requires a good sense of technology and user requirements, which can translate directly into marketing, said Tony Deblauwe, human resources consultant. "Over time, you develop a sense of how different solutions solve different problems, especially as an organization grows," he said. "Taking this baseline and applying it to solutions marketing means you can construct a framework for customers about why a certain system can met their needs in the most effective manner -- time- and cost-wise. The marketing skills required for this transition are more product-centered, vs. marketing communications, but seeing the potential in an opportunity for a customer is the essential soft skill."
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2. Sales. At a company that sells technology products, tech execs' skills are especially transferrable. And perhaps in no other role are they more transferrable than in the sales area. "Some in IT may find it natural to transfer their IT knowledge to sales and then move their way up the ranks," said Charley Polachi, managing partner at Polachi Access Executive Search. "These IT pros have experience working with the products and are great brand advocates due to their experience."
When you think about it, every company is providing technology as a product in some way, shape or form -- even if it doesn't sell tech directly. "Any role that is client-facing, or solely client-facing, such as account managers, still has to understand the tech side before they can ever go in front of a client," said Elizabeth Lions, executive coach and author of Recession Proof Yourself (Aarkvark, 2009) and I Quit! Working For You Isn't Working For Me (Elizabeth Lions Consulting, 2012).
3. COO. The role of chief operating officer is a natural for someone who has come up through the IT ranks. "IT, by its nature, has to deal with every facet and phase of the business -- anything from technology on lead generation to implementation, to maintenance, to road mapping, etc.," said Adam Hoffarber, managing director, SkyWater Search Partners. "Oftentimes, IT implementations are vital to core competencies of a business, and someone who has experience leading all multiple teams within different parts of the organization are best suited to oversee operations in their entirety."
Bruce Ballengee, president and CEO of Pariveda Solutions and member of the Society for Information Management (SIM), said the trust that IT execs build up as they implement business-critical applications makes them well-suited to this role. "A CIO builds relationships and trust as they implement very large ERP solutions within their respective companies," said Ballengee. "When the COO or VP of operations is ready to move on, the CIO is the current senior person who best understands business operations and how the new systems work."
4. CEO. The sky's the limit when it comes to IT execs setting their sights on new roles within their employer or a future employer. "Understanding business needs and implementing the tools that allow an organization to address them qualifies top IT executives for top operations -- even CEO -- roles down the road," said SkyWater Search Partners' Hoffarber.
5. Venture capital. One new area ripe for exploration by CIOs and other tech execs is venture capital and business nurturing. "CIOs can be very instrumental to early-stage startups in defining their product roadmap and helping them win design customers," said Deepak Jeevankumar, principal, General Catalyst Partners. "As a VC investor, we constantly look for current or former CIOs who can sit on a customer advisory board for our early-stage startups to fill this role."
6. Human resources. Many HR organizations are about systems and processes, and automating these tasks is a natural progression for strong IT folks, according to Deblauwe. "The IT profile requires a strong bedside manner with customers, similar to HR," he said. "The technical mindedness of IT helps to see opportunities where the HR department can be more strategic by addressing the bundle of tactical tasks that might be inefficient."
7. Executive recruitment. When it comes to successful IT pros, it takes one to know one. IT execs who have effectively aligned technology with business needs and goals are well-positioned to identify others who can do the same. "Recruiting is an excellent avenue for experienced IT professionals to transition into," said Courtney Smith, VP and founder of executive search firm The Lakeside Group Associates, which specializes in the aerospace, defense and alternative energy sectors. "An experienced IT executive has all the fundamental knowledge needed to either start a successful recruiting firm or join an existing one. They would have the keen ability to spot talented candidates, and to screen and interview. They would also have the connections within the industry."
No matter what new role you aspire to, trust is the key to making a move successfully, said Pariveda Solutions' Ballengee. "Note the criticality of trust and relationship building in all these cases. That seems to be the common thread. Makes sense -- if you are changing career paths, you need people pulling you over versus trying to push through."
Follow Deb Donston-Miller on Twitter at @debdonston.