Is Self-Promotion a Viable Path to CIO?

For those aspiring to be a CIO, advancing your career by self-promoting into a position at another company might be the best way.

Mary E. Shacklett, President of Transworld Data

February 28, 2024

4 Min Read
Wooden blocks with arrows. Growth, development progress concept. Achieve success. Career promotion
Mohd Izzuan Roslan via Alamy Stock

In August, 2023, ClearCompany, a provider of HR solutions, shared some interesting employee statistics:

  • 76% of employees were looking for opportunities to expand their careers.

  • 86% of employees said they’d switch jobs for one with more chances to grow.

  • Retention was 34% higher among employees who had opportunities for professional development within their present companies.

CIOs are employees, too. So, what happens if a CIO position that you feel you’re qualified for opens up in your company and you get passed over?

In 2022, search firm Spencer Stuart noted that “since 2010, CIOs of Fortune 100 financial services companies are much more likely to have prior CIO experience and be hired from outside the company -- and the industry. Over the same period, there has been a sharp decline in the representation of women among CIOs -- 46% in 2010 versus 15% in 2022 -- and almost no change in the racial diversity of CIOs.”

Referencing my own experience, I attended many CIO conferences in which I was the only female CIO in the room. And just like Spencer Stuart said, I was a CIO who had been hired from outside of the organization -- although in my first job heading up IT, I came in without prior CIO experience.

How and why did that happen?

I wanted to advance my career, but I knew I was blocked from advancement in my current organization, a tech company that was extremely paternal. The only viable solution for me if I wanted to move forward with my career was to self-promote myself by looking for another more challenging position in another company.

Related:Changing Role of the CIO

The company that hired me was looking for an IT manager to oversee a staff of 40. This staff eventually grew to 400 as the company expanded. My career and responsibilities also grew, and I was promoted to CIO.

I’ve talked to many women CIOs, and this isn’t an uncommon story, but it goes for males, too. I know a few CIOs who ascended to the CIO position because they were willing to wait for their bosses to retire -- but most had to self-promote themselves by seeking career advancement outside of their companies, and they saw self-promotion by seeking new employment as a viable path to CIO.

Is self-promotion for everyone?

No, it isn’t.

For starters, there are inherent risks when you embark upon the self-promotion path.

As a new CIO in a new company, you must forge new relationships with your superior, with peers, with your staff, with users and with business partners and vendors. In most cases, you’re replacing someone with whom the company was dissatisfied, so you must prove yourself, and in some cases, rebuild IT’s reputation, too. It’s also worth noting that today’s “honeymoon period” is about 60 days before you need to start delivering results, unlike bygone years when you had six months.

Related:First Days on the Job as a CIO

Because of these risks, I’ve known a number of excellent IT managers who considered the self-promotion path to CIO as being too risky, and they just said no. Instead, they preferred the security of a company and a culture they already knew, and they were content to wait for career advancement. In many cases, they eventually got there, too.

Summary Remarks

A majority of the people I know in IT do use self-promotion to advance themselves by moving into more responsible positions in new companies. In part, this is due to an IT job market that is very fluid and that has been very robust for years. That being said, not everyone is comfortable with self-promotion.

The best way to determine whether self-promotion is for you is to assess the degree of risk that you are willing to take on by moving to a new company environment. You also need to know how far you are willing to go for a new opportunity.

For example, are you willing to accept a CIO position that will require you to move to the other side of the country, and that will require moving your family, too? Or are you going to limit your career seeking opportunities to the geographic region you already reside in?

Related:Quick Study: The Evolving Roles of CIOs and IT Leaders

Those who make the decision to self-promote themselves to new positions like CIO already know the answers to these questions. They’ve assessed the risks of changing career trajectories and starting all over again with a new organization. They know if they’re willing to relocate, and they’ve also considered that they might not succeed -- but they’re going for it, nonetheless.

They take the risk because they already understand what Spencer Stuart said: that companies are more likely to hire their CIOs from the outside.

About the Author(s)

Mary E. Shacklett

President of Transworld Data

Mary E. Shacklett is an internationally recognized technology commentator and President of Transworld Data, a marketing and technology services firm. Prior to founding her own company, she was Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturer in the semiconductor industry.

Mary has business experience in Europe, Japan, and the Pacific Rim. She has a BS degree from the University of Wisconsin and an MA from the University of Southern California, where she taught for several years. She is listed in Who's Who Worldwide and in Who's Who in the Computer Industry.

Never Miss a Beat: Get a snapshot of the issues affecting the IT industry straight to your inbox.

You May Also Like

More Insights