Learn About Being a CIO (Chief Information Officer)

By Indeed Editorial Team

December 10, 2019

What does a CIO do?

CIOs hold a strategic role in overseeing a company’s information technology needs. They oversee information technology strategies as well as computer systems to ensure they support the goals of an organization. The CIO is responsible for learning about emerging technologies and identifying how they could benefit a company, for creating department budgets and controlling funds, for developing data security and system backup protocol and for making recommendations for an organization’s computer systems. Their responsibilities are primarily strategic and they delegate implementation and day-to-day operational responsibilities to the IT director and other IT employees. Other specific responsibilities include:

  • Analyzing the technology a company uses for efficiency and accuracy and identify whether they are supporting company goals

  • Overseeing the development of platforms for customer support

  • Managing employees in the IT department as well as the development team

  • Approving vendor negotiations and strategic plans for architectural changes

  • Establishing standards, strategies and policies for the IT department

  • Looking for opportunities to create business value through technology

Average salary

Salaries for this position vary according to your experience level and geographic location. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the salary link.

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $127,499 per year

  • Some salaries range from $28,000 to $293,000 per year.

CIO requirements

There are several qualifications required to obtain a position as a CIO. They include:

Education

CIOs are expected to have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in a field like information technology, computer science, programming or another closely related field. They need in-depth knowledge of computer systems and technology to perform the strategic planning responsibilities in this role. Coursework that they complete in their field of study may include software development, computer programming and math. 

Many employers prefer or may even require candidates to hold a master’s degree, such as a Master of Business Administration (MBA). These programs typically take at least two years and can be completed while the student is working part- or full-time in an IT-related role.

Training

Much of the training for this role happens through formal education or on-the-job in lower-level positions. Many of the skills that a CIO needs can be obtained through a computer-related bachelor’s program. If you pursue an MBA, this program will provide you with managerial skills to be effective in this role. 

Because a CIO position requires substantial experience in an IT field, as well as years of experience in a managerial role, you will need to take an entry-level or associate-level position before eventually advancing into a management role. If you are still in college or have recently graduated, an internship can help you get practical experience to accompany your formal education. Small organizations can also provide great opportunities for entry-level candidates to gain experience, as IT employees in small businesses often get a broader variety of experiences.

Certifications

Certifications are a great way to differentiate yourself from other candidates in the job market and show that you have the technical abilities required in the role. Some top certifications for IT professions are:

  • CompTIA A+ Certification: Offered by the Computing Technology Industry Association, this certification validates a candidate’s understanding of the most common hardware and software technologies in business. It’s often viewed as a foundational certification for any professional in the IT industry.

  • CompTIA Network+: This is a mid-level certification for IT professionals and tests their competency with network design, hardware setup, cabling, configuration, installation, support and troubleshooting.

  • CompTIA Security+: This is an entry-level certification designed for IT professionals who want to build foundational knowledge in cybersecurity.

  • CompTIA Project+: This certification is designed for IT professionals who want to verify their project management abilities. Though an entry-level certification, it covers a range of technology and project management skills.

  • Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL): This certification focuses on implementing management strategies to improve the efficiency of a team and improve processes in an organization. Appropriate for all experience levels, you can be certified up to an expert level.

  • Six Sigma Certification: This is a training and mentorship program that emphasizes IT project management and leadership. There are five levels within this program and each level emphasizes leadership through change and staying agile as organizations transform.

These are just a few of the certifications available that are beneficial for CIOs to acquire during their careers. There are also vendor-specific certifications through companies like Microsoft, Apple and Cisco.

Skills

Several skills can help CIOs succeed in their role. They include:

Interpersonal skills

Commonly referred to as “people skills,” these skills include communication, teamwork, flexibility and patience. A CIO needs strong verbal and written communication skills to communicate effectively with executives and members of the IT department. They also need active listening skills to listen carefully to what others are telling them. As a leader, active listening will help others feel valued. But also, as the CIO, it allows them to effectively deliver technology that provides solutions. They need active listening skills to understand the full scope of those issues.

Leadership skills

These skills include delegating and empowering others and inspiring a team. CIO roles are typically strategic, which means day-to-day operational responsibilities must be delegated to other employees. 

Change management skills

Technology is always changing and companies must be able to adapt to advancements to succeed. CIOs are at the forefront, helping companies to adapt, and for this, they rely heavily upon change management skills. These skills include managing others’ uncertainty, coaching team members, building trust within the organization and being personally resilient. 

Strategic planning

These include critical thinking, deductive reasoning, prioritization, creativity and other problem-solving skills. This role is primarily strategic over operational, so the CIO must have mastered these strategic planning skills.

Technical skills

A CIO must have in-depth knowledge of programming and computer systems to evaluate an organization’s system and identify areas where improvements could be made. They must be comfortable with technology to stay at the forefront of new, emerging technologies that could improve efficiencies or otherwise impact the performance of the organization.

CIO work environment

CIOs typically work in office environments with the following characteristics:

  • Sitting at a desk for extended periods of time

  • Using computers, printers, fax machines and other office equipment

  • Facilitating communication between IT professionals and executives

CIOs work for IT firms, hospitals, finance and insurance companies, large corporations and manufacturing companies. 

How to become a CIO

These are the typical steps you should take to pursue a career as a technical support specialist:

  1. Pursue an education: At a minimum, CIOs are expected to have a bachelor’s degree in computer science, information technology or another similar field. Many employers may also require that candidates hold a master’s in business or a computer-related field. Search for open CIO positions in your geographic area and determine the level of education required to be eligible for the role.

  2. Obtain experience: Because this is an executive position, you will need years of IT and management experience. If you are still completing a bachelor’s program, look for internship opportunities where you can get practical experience. As you gain experience, seek advancement opportunities where you can obtain management experience.

  3. Acquire certifications: There are a variety of certifications available for all levels of experience and a variety of specializations. Consider acquiring certifications to show your abilities and prove to current and potential employers that you are driven, hardworking and want to grow and advance in your career.

  4. Update your resume: When you have the required education and experience, update your resume. Include your highest level of education, certifications and your relevant work history. Emphasize leadership or mentorship experiences you have obtained and the strategic initiatives you led.

  5. Apply for jobs: Search for open CIO positions in your area and identify the positions for which you are most qualified based on your education and experience. Apply with your updated resume and a cover letter that you have customized for each role.

CIO job description example

Chariton River Hotels and Casinos is seeking an experienced chief information officer to join its executive team. This individual will be responsible for developing our information systems strategy and capabilities. They will work closely with our executive team to create strategic plans for the future growth of the organization and establish goals and objectives for the IT department in support of that growth. They will work closely with the IT director to ensure resources are allocated and used optimally. They will also analyze the current infrastructure and make any necessary upgrades to ensure it aligns with strategic plans. 

Candidates are required to have a bachelor’s degree in information technology, computer science or another closely related field. A master’s degree and experience with major project implementations are strongly preferred.

Related careers

  • IT manager

  • Senior project manager

  • Computer technician

  • System administrator

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