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Alan Etterman shares his sensible hiring practices

Bill Lepiesza | June 8, 2008
Etterman's views on hiring are as straightforward as his description of himself as an IT guy.

Is there any particular advice you would give to technology professionals interviewing for CIO positions?

A CIO's most important interviews will not be with the team that he or she manages, it will be with the other C-level executives at the company. You need to be able to talk business language whether it's finance or manufacturing or sales or service and understand how to apply technology to solve those business problems. If you find yourself talking technical storage issues or specific architectures, you are not a CIO. It's a C-level job. You have to approach it as a C-level executive.

What should a candidate keep in mind when he or she interviews with a CIO?

You've got to understand the company, where it's headed and the person. I have this belief that people join companies and they quit managers. Going into an interview, regardless of your preparation, you can't know enough. You're "buying" JDS Uniphase and an hour with me so use that time to understand who you will be working with.

They also need to keep in mind that it has to be a two-way interview. The candidate needs to assess the interviewer and the environment as much as the hiring manager assesses the candidate.

Are there any questions that you always ask candidates?

I actually don't do very much of "list of 20 questions" type interviews. I tend to have more of an informal conversation, and I think that sometimes puts the candidate off guard a little because they're expecting me to ask, "What was the most difficult situation you've managed through?" or some other question like that. I'd rather have the conversation wander around a bit, see where the discussion goes and get my answers through a more informal conversation. After doing this for 30 years I believe I have a good sense of how to read someone.

I do have a question I sometimes ask, though, and it's one that few people seem to know how to answer. I ask people if they could be anything, what would they be? So if you ask me that, I would say: I would play third base for the Detroit Tigers. If I could have been anything, that's what I would have been. (I say "would have been" because now at 55 I'm too old to be doing that.) That question catches people way off because they usually don't have a scripted answer. It's not a business question. It's a question about knowing you as a person. It's learning about the essence of the person.

I mean, who the heck would be a CIO if you didn't actually just end up there, if you could be anything?


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