Some killer CIO interview questions … For interviewers or interviewees …

Some common questions and variants and how they are designed to test a prospective CIO..

1. ” If you were asked to undertake a review of IT where would you start?”

The answer to this question should demonstrate the need to start from business outcomes, not a traditional review of IT efficiency and effectiveness. I would expect it to include an assessment of where the business/sector is moving, partnerships that are required as well as the specific operational pressures to be dealt with in order to be more effective and efficient.

2. “Much is being talked about organisations becoming truly “digital” in the way that they use technology. What you think this means in practice and how it relates to this role?”

The answer here should reflect an understanding of how technology is fundamentally changing culture, behaviours and business practices across organisations. It should cover the difference between a CDO and a CIO function. It should cover change management, re-evaluation of business models, challenging traditional service design and delivery, as well as the way in which technology is deployed/used. Does the candidate understand how business risk is managed in a truly digital operation – eg reputation and social media, security and information sharing, transactional service management and joint working. It is much more than simple adoption of more technology, mobile and flexible working, self-service and automation.

3. “Without knowing [the business] in detail, what would you imagine of the main IT challenges we face currently and how do you think they would be best addressed?”

A variant of the questions above, but the answer this should demonstrate the maturity of the applicant in working in a complex organisation, where there will be common issues for IT to address. However, a really good answer should demonstrate some homework around the main priorities facing the company they are applying to join. Much will be around managing relationships, retaining scarce IT skills, enforcing common practice, appetite for risk and change, Etc.

4. “How do you balance the demands from frontline services for new IT, the need to make savings overall and pressures from budget holders in prioritising IT developments? How do you ensure IT is responsible and and ‘enabler’ but doesn’t simply try to respond to everything?”

This question is trying to probe the conundrum which faces all CIOs in complex businesses: balancing corporate, departmental and frontline service demands for IT. In the past IT was expected to be business-led: – responding primarily to departmental and individual service needs and following budgets set around individual services. Maximising the value of technology in a modern, complex business now requires compromising at the local level to support common corporate objectives. How would the individual perform in such an environment? Would they adopt a conciliatory but weak approach which just responds to demand? Or exhibit an arrogant and aggressive approach which fails to engage and win hearts and minds? How will they deal with conflict which inevitably would result at times?

5. “If the CEO comes to you with an urgent request for an IT solution how would you handle it?”

A trick question… The easy answer (wrong) here is to simply appeal to ‘being responsive’ to the most important person in the organisation. Reflecting the assessment of the impact of this request, eg on existing priorities or technology architecture, will be important. Is the individual strong enough to stand up to the Board on any demands that may not be appropriate? How would they do this in an appropriate fashion? In being an advocate for technology opportunity, there is a need for honest realism about risk, cost and value. Short term ‘fudges’ can build up major IT legacy problems which are usually resource hungry and limit future agility.

6. “If you were asked to reshape an IT service and this resulted in a number of job changes and potential redundancies, how would you approach this? What is your style?”

This is a pretty straightforward question to probe the individuals experience and leadership style. Most new CIO appointments will be expected to reassess current IT (and deal with lots of often conflicting Board views about what needs to change!). The best answer here needs to demonstrate that an individual is thoughtful, sensitive and can anticipate challenges at a business and at a human level. At the same time individual needs to be able to demonstrate that they have experience of grasping difficult HR situations and can take difficult decisions. Striking the right balance is not easy, and it depends on the credibility, experience and style of the candidate.

7. “Can you give an example of where you have personally overseen a project or an initiative that has not been fully successful. What lessons did you learn from this?”

The wrong answer here is to say that the candidate has not really been in this situation..ie they have had problems, but always dealt with them successfully. This is either untrue, or it will come from an individual who is unaware of their weaknesses or has never had to deal with any real challenges in IT. The right answer will be an honest assessment of a project that resulted in an early closedown and write-off. A partial answer is one where the individual has been able to stem a problem and redirect it successful conclusion.

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