Climbing the Leadership Ladder: An Insider’s View of the CIO Search Process

Title:  Climbing the Leadership Ladder: An Insider’s View of the CIO Search Process


  • Dianna Sadlouskos, Strategic Alliance Partner, Next Generation Executive Search, LLC
  • Philip J. Goldstein, Managing Partner, Next Generation Executive Search, LLC


This firm has done about 18 CIO successful searches, and is here to provide career coaching and observations to address the three what institutions want (candidate profile), making your case, managing your career.

The whole process starts with a consultative process with the institution about what they actually need.  It’s hopefully heavily influenced by institutional priorities.  It also includes thing “top of mind” with presidents and provosts.  Often, these folks think executive search firms have three boxes of the following types of IT pros to pull from:

  1. Optimizer:  delivers continuous improvement to IT
  2. Transformer:  early adopter of technologies, reforms and refocuses IT
  3. Strategist:  shapes institutional and IT strategies

IMPORTANT:  the institution needs a clear sense of what they’re looking for.


SLIDE:  Evolving Emphasis


  • Improve service
  • Contain costs
  • Run large technology/ process change projects
  • Provide technical leadership
  • manage Risk


  • Catalyze innovative pedagogy and enable student success
  • Enhance research competitiveness
  • Optimize central and distributed IT
  • Set sourcing strategy
  • Create sustainability


SLIDE:  Building your Brand

  • Personal Brand:  defined professional profile
  • Value:  Manage your reputation, influence the industry conversation, build a cohort community
  • Brand Attributes:  Authentic, energetic, connected, intellectual curiosity

Use of social media counts!  It’s important how you view yourself, and you have a real hand in developing your own reputation by influencing or even leading relationship-building activities.  Be true to yourself and your intentions.

Start with 3-tiered approach:  Study > Share > Build

What are other CIOs doing?  How do I want to set up my own profile and how does it resonate with the three CIO types above?  For example, if you’re interested in student success and retention, there are certainly groups you can join that will help you get up-to-speed.  Eventually, you will be able to create community with like-minded people whose ideas resonate with you.  Share your slide decks with tools like slideshare…chances are good that your experience will help someone else.

Shared some of the top CIOs using social media:

  • Baz Abouelenein
  • Phil Komarny
  • Stephen DeFilipo
  • Tim Chester

Be consistent in how you represent yourself!


SLIDE:  Presenting your Brand

If possible, arrange to be recruited

Ask for an informational interview first

Prepare a concise, tailored resume

  • quantify accomplishments
  • tailor description of experience

Cover letters aren’t perfunctory

  • Establish the basis for your interest
  • Highlight significant, relevant accomplishments
  • Proactively address anomalies


SLIDE:  Cover Letter Tips

  • Customize for each opportunity
  • Organize content:  beginning, middle, end
  • Focus on specific experiences in your background that align with this role
  • Anticipate questions, explain gaps
  • Minimize jargon
  • Proofread / read aloud

Your cover letter should tell a compelling story!


SLIDE:  Resume

  • Customize to each opportunity
  • Establish scope and scale of your position
  • Include a professional profile
  • Highlight significant accomplishments
  • Don’t forget the fundamentals

First 5-7 sentences should conjure an image of you.  PDF your cover letter WITH your resume.  If you’re telling a compelling story, length of resume is not that important.  HOWEVER, four pages is a good practical limit that most people will not read beyond.  Be sure to include enough detail, and don’t “bury the lede.”


SLIDE:  Search Committee Interview

Committees are testing candidates on multiple levels

  • Depth of experience and knowledge
  • Ability to communicate clearly and persuasively
  • Personality, energy and style
  • Leadership presence

The interview is an audition for

  • How you would interact with cabinet or board
  • What you are like as a colleague
  • How you perform under pressure


SLIDE:  Typical Questions

  • Why do you want this job?  (people often stumble over this one)
  • How have you failed and what did you learn?
  • What resources will you need to be successful?
  • How do you develop a culture of service?
  • How do you optimize the relationship between central and distributed IT?
  • How can tech help institutions gain a a comparative advantage in research?
  • How do you quickly spread innovative uses of academic technologies?

When you failed, what did you learn?  How are you a better leader for taking a risk?  That question is not a trap!


SLIDE:  Managing Your Career

Essential Experiences you must be able to articulate:

  • Build the depth of your experience
  • Plan – for an institution, org, or service
  • Vision – get the institution, a department or individuals to stretch
  • Prioritize – demonstrate how you apply scarce resources to maximize impace
  • Lead – develop eople, build cpacity, challenge your team
  • Influence – create change without authority
  • Deliver – continuously improves services


SLIDE:  If you are a Rising CIO

  • Build experience working outside your primary portfolio:  within IT, outside of IT
  • Develop a point of view on broader higher education and IT isssues
  • Proactively addres predicatble areas of doubt – leadership, strategy, risk
  • Seek opportunities that align with your deepest area of experience

Be able to proactively answer the question:  “are you ready yet?”  This is something that senior leadership teams will want to know.


SLIDE:  If you’re an experienced CIO

  • Continue to broaden your experience – research, instruction, consituent engagement
  • Refine your point of view on key issues in IT and higher education
  • Demonstrate your ability to work collaboratively across the organization
  • Develop your rising leaders
  • Articulate your key accomplishments

Strike up conversations with people who are leaders in areas you need to brush up on.  It pays off in two ways:  proves your a good leader and it helps your institution function better.



How many clients were willing to hire the rising CIO rather than the sitting CIO?  About 20%.  What got them the job was their area of primary expertise lined up with the needs of the university and they had the soft skill nailed.  They had actually worked in larger organizations, and were taking a step back.  You have to be aware the key issues the institution is facing.

What’s the best way to represent 20 years of consulting work in a resume?  You want to include in your introduction details that explains the value of consulting, i.e. diversity of experience.  Clearly articulate your accomplishments and be laser-focused with how those accomplishments align with representative examples that align with the institution you’re interviewing with.

What about “jumping Carnegie classes?”  Depends on the scale and complexity of the operation you’ve run.  For example, if going from a community college to a research university.

Where should people look for opportunities (since not all are advertised)?  Look at aggregators and cultivate search firms.  Read the job posting in the Chronicle of Higher Education.  Create a network of colleagues at EDUCAUSE and other places…endorsements can be extremely valuable and will give you the inside track on opportunities you might not otherwise hear about.



By Paul Schantz

CSUN Director of Web & Technology Services, Student Affairs. husband, father, gamer, part time aviator, fitness enthusiast, Apple fan, and iguana wrangler.

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