How to prepare for your CIO job interview

cio_job_interview10 tough questions you need to answer

Many CIOs assume their long experience will suffice when it comes to a big new job interview: talking with ease about major IT rollout plans, technology budgeting and so on. But this is rarely enough for the tough questions that you will face when applying for a big new CIO role. Instead, a range of other attributes will likely be tested, which few CIOs are fully primed for.


You’ve done the big, complex global ERP rollout. You’re all too familiar with how to squeeze more life out of your data centers. And you know full well that, along with most other CIOs, you’ll be expected to do more for less each year. So, that all means you’re ready to answer the tough questions that you will face when applying for a big new CIO role, right?

Wrong. While such skills and experiences are taken for granted, many CEOs and their boards are just as interested in other aspects of your capabilities. Directly or indirectly, your potential new boss will want to touch on the following issues: leadership, financial acumen, strategic ability, operational abilities and technical competency.

Today’s CIOs often acknowledge gaps in these areas. According to EY research, 8 in 10 IT leaders see leadership skills as the number one attribute for the job, while nearly 4 in 10 admit to needing to improve their leadership skills.
But when it comes to the interview, you’ll be expected to provide clear, credible answers on these issues. Ideally, you should have concrete examples to hand that support your messages.

So, are you ready? These 10 questions highlight the range of issues that you’re likely to face during an interview. To assess your preparedness, have a think about how clear your responses would be:

  • How would you describe your leadership style, and how effective has it been in improving team performance within the IT function?
  • What was the most significant difference you made at your last company?
  • What would you aim to achieve in your first 100 days on the job as CIO?
  • How have you achieved buy-in for new technology initiatives from a widely diverse set of stakeholders?
  • What do you think are the best ways to measure the value of the IT function?
  • How have you maintained performance while dealing with IT budget cuts?
  • How do you determine the right balance of spending on IT maintenance versus IT innovation?
  • How do you approach the task of setting out the longer-term technical direction of the IT function, and who else contributes to this process?
  • What is the largest non-IT initiative you’ve had to lead?
  • How did you go about measuring the success of that initiative?

Good luck!


4 thoughts on “How to prepare for your CIO job interview

  1. Hi Uwe, interesting matter. I especially like the point you raised about the most significant difference someone made at his or her previous company. As an IT recruiter I often see candidates that are too little prepared to answer this question. Many tend to talk about the IT improvements they have delivered. However, companies want to assess the capabilities and skills of CIO candidates in the critical fields of strategy and planning as well as leadership. Technical expertise seems to be less important for them, even though it could be quite interesting to better understand if the candidate has applied technology in the past to solve a business problem he or she had detected.

    1. Hi Vera, many thanks for your comments. You are right, strategic planning and leadership have taken a leap up the priority list for those recruiting a new CIO, therefore “the proof is in the pudding”. CIOs should be prepared to prove these skills with actual good examples.

    1. Hi Michel, many thanks for your interest in my blog. I will come back to the career planning topic shortly, so stay tuned!

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