Pity the poor, ambitious IT professional. With technology more important to the bottom line than ever, you’d think there’d be career opportunities up the wazoo. But the suits don’t really understand what you do for a living. And they hold the keys to the executive washroom. So, while you’re down in the server closet saving the company’s bacon on a daily basis, these guys are upstairs in the corner offices with the nice view.
It doesn’t have to be that way. And it won’t be, if you assemble a solid strategy for advancing your career.
We spoke with CEOs and CIOs, honchos and headhunters on what it takes to climb the corporate ladder in this increasingly techcentric world. Compiled here are our top 20 rules for creating and capitalizing on career opportunities.
1. Think Business First, Technology Second
“There is no such thing as an ‘IT project.’ There are only business projects with an IT component,” says June Drewry, CIO of Chubb Corp., a $48 billion insurance group based in Warren, N.J.
It’s the cardinal rule of career success: If you want to move up the corporate ladder, you must think like a businessperson first and a technologist second, says Ray Howell, senior director of applications development at Sapphire Technologies, an IT staffing company.
“The thing that helped me most early on was figuring out that I needed to see IT projects from the business side of things,” Howell says. “In meetings where we’d talk about tech projects, I was able to step into the shoes of the finance and sales guys and see the problem from their eyes, which helped me find solutions faster. My supervisors recognized this, which is how I moved up quickly.”
“Employees who understand the link between technology and its impact on the business are in incredibly high demand right now,” notes Paul Taylor, regional vice president at Hudson, a staffing and talent management company. “Those skills will definitely not go unnoticed when it comes time for promotions.”
2. Raise the Bar … and Leave It There
Naturally, those who go beyond the call of duty are most likely to ascend the fastest. But like it or not, you must excel regularly, not in fits and starts.
“Consistent overachievement is the fastest way to get recognized,” says Brendan Courtney, senior vice president at Spherion, a $2 billion recruiting and staffing company. “That means being able to multitask and accomplish things even when you’re busy, or demonstrating leadership skills that go beyond what you were hired to do.”
“The more responsibility you take on, the more indispensable you become,” adds Carly Drum, managing director of Drum Associates, an executive search company in New York. “The more you ‘burst your box’ -- or hit the limit of what you can deliver -- the more people need to be hired beneath you. And when people get hired beneath you, you get promoted.”
The key here is to make sure you can deliver the goods before saying yes to new responsibilities.
3. Hold Your Nose and Raise Your Hand
One way to do more is to volunteer for projects nobody else wants and then excel at them. Sunil Misra says his first big break came as a 24-year-old software engineer, when he volunteered to lead the night shift that was testing his company’s document management/CAD software.