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10 skills CIO job candidates need in 2024

Learn which capabilities chief information officer candidates need in 2024 if they want to land top roles and which macro factors are driving changes in IT leadership.

Skilled and savvy IT leaders never go out of fashion. But what "skilled" means does change with the times.

Today, organizational investments in technologies such as AI and the pace of digital transformation across many industries significantly influences requirements for the CIO job role in 2024. This, in turn, means job seekers need new skills and can communicate effectively about the ones they already have.

"CIOs are pivotal in driving and managing technological innovation within organizations," said Michael Butts, CEO and founder at Burtch Works, an IT executive recruiter. "The demand for strategic, forward-thinking CIOs is likely to grow in tandem with the continued evolution of the fourth industrial revolution."

Security, AI and automation are driving CIO skill demands

The last few years have seen nonstop change, from increasing reliance on digital connectivity and an exponential increase in attendant information security issues. Moreover, generative AI landed on the public consciousness, remote and hybrid work held momentum, and hiring grew more difficult. All these issues plus many more have had a major impact on IT needs.

Corporate boards are driving a great deal of interest in CIO hiring right now, said Somer Hackley, founder and CEO at Distinguished Search, an IT executive recruiter. Board members are facing new reporting requirements and, therefore, want greater confidence that their cybersecurity teams and processes are in order.

"This is more than hiring an excellent CISO," Hackley said. "They're looking for a CIO who has a seat at the table assessing business risk."

In addition, many organizations want leaders who can apply automation and AI to the business.

"One CIO said to me that 'if you haven't yet already done automation in a big way, then you've lost your competitive advantage.' This can be anything from driving quality output, creating a higher level of customer engagement using AI or embedding AI in products," Hackley said.

Some organizations are looking for IT leaders who can help them move their product portfolio to the cloud. That requires the re-architecture of precious assets or assets ingrained in business process, Hackley said. On the other hand, some corporate execs are also unhappy with the rising costs of cloud computing. They often look for CIOs to maintain operational oversight, leaning into this more than they have historically done.

To that point, organizations want CIOs who are aligned to business strategies, Hackley said. There is an expectation now more than ever that they earned a seat at the table with the CEO and the company's leadership.

CIO pay continues to climb, but always tied to location and industry

A higher salary comes with the increased tech and business responsibility, but to what extent varies by several factors.

Candidates often go into their prepared monologue, chronologically talking through their background, but those aren't the people who stand out.
Somer HackleyFounder and CEO, Distinguished Search

Skilled CIOs typically earn between $210,000 to 450,000 in salary depending on the size of company and industry, Butts said. A 10% to 25% incentive bonus is also common. In some cases, a long-term incentive plan might also be available that aligns with company performance and has a four- to five-year vesting schedule.

But several factors influence that.

The CIO pay is highly dependent on the organization size, location and industry, Hackley said.

"CIO means different things depending on who you ask," Hackley says. "I've seen CIO and CTO searches that pay upwards of $2 million, others that pay $550,000, and others still that pay a low base but with higher equity. It's all over the place."

10 skills to land CIO roles in 2024

CIOs are increasingly asked to deliver more business value from technology initiatives, often without additional resources, Butts said. This means the role is becoming more complex and strategic, which could lead to a higher demand for skilled and experienced CIOs capable of handling these expanded duties. CIOs who can demonstrate they've delivered desired business outcomes, especially growing revenue or enabling cost savings, make attractive candidates.

To demonstrate that they have all "the right stuff," CIO candidates should demonstrate that they excel at the following 10 skills, Butts said.

Leadership and management experience

CIOs must effectively lead and manage diverse teams, including IT staff, project managers, external vendors, and business stakeholders. Experience in building, motivating and guiding teams is crucial for ensuring that the IT strategy is aligned with business goals.

Strategic planning and vision

A CIO should have a track record of developing and implementing IT strategies that support and drive the overall business strategy. This involves understanding market trends, anticipating future technological needs, and planning accordingly.

Technical expertise

A strong foundation in various aspects of IT, including infrastructure, software development, cybersecurity and data management, is essential. While a CIO doesn't need to be the foremost expert in each area, a comprehensive understanding is necessary to make informed decisions.

Program management

Experience in managing large-scale IT projects, including budgeting, scheduling and risk management, is vital. CIOs often oversee significant projects that involve cross-functional teams and substantial investments.

Business acumen

Understanding the core functions of the business, from finance and operations to marketing and sales, is crucial. This knowledge helps align IT initiatives with business objectives and communicate the value of IT investments to stakeholders.

Change management

Technology is continually evolving, and a CIO needs to be adept at leading change. This includes managing the human side of change when implementing new technologies or processes.

Industry knowledge

Understanding the specific challenges, regulatory requirements and competitive landscape of the industry in which the company operates can be highly beneficial, allowing the CIO to tailor IT strategies that provide a competitive edge.

Customer-centric mindset

In many organizations, IT directly impacts the customer experience. A CIO should understand customer needs and how technology can enhance customer satisfaction and engagement.

Innovation and continuous learning

Technology is one of the fastest-evolving fields, and a successful CIO must be committed to ongoing learning and open to exploring innovative solutions.

For example, many organizations are piloting projects with generative AI or understanding how sustainability efforts fit into the IT purview.

Communication skills

CIOs must effectively communicate with all levels of the organization, from technical teams to board members. This involves translating complex IT concepts into understandable business terms and persuading others of the value of IT initiatives.

The skill above all others

Of the 10 skill areas outlined above, the need for communication skills cannot be overstated. CIO candidates can stand out by communicating well and by demonstrating where they can add value to a prospective employer.

"Candidates often go into their prepared monologue, chronologically talking through their background, but those aren't the people who stand out," Hackley stresses. "Candidates who are able to talk about their background holistically [and] succinctly [as well as] demonstrate how they can play a key role in the company's journey are the ones who set themselves apart."

Table stakes are the twin abilities to communicate about both technology and business as well as serve as a conduit between each, Hackley said. But top IT leadership also needs to have a proven methodology for how to gain trust, develop relationships, influence and lead. CIO job candidates set themselves apart when they have a playbook for this that is adaptable to different companies and cultures.

Finally, CIO candidates who shine approach interviews with curiosity, ask good questions, are good listeners and don't monopolize the conversation.

"They're prepared but not rehearsed, and they allow their personality to come through," Hackley said.

David Weldon is a business and technology writer who covers data management, information security, healthcare technology and other topics.

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