Main image of article 7 Most Essential Skills You’ll Need for a CIO Job in 2021

If you’re one of the 40 percent of employees who feel their career temporarily stalled during the COVID-19 pandemic, your opportunity to move up the ladder may have finally arrived: There has been an increase in job openings for CIOs in the first weeks of 2021, according to recruiters. 

But after reviewing how their companies responded to the overlapping economic and health crises of 2020, many CEOs are looking to hire a new breed of tech leader: Someone who can get things done quickly amid uncertainty. Consequently, you’ll need an evolved skillset to land one of these coveted CIO positions.

Here’s a look at revised hiring profiles for CIOs, as well as the competencies and attributes you’ll need to demonstrate during the hiring process to prove that you're a great fit for such a consequential job.

Digital Business Transformation Success

Although digital transformation has been a top priority for years, many companies lacked the data analytics or digital marketing capabilities to pivot quickly to a new business model when the pandemic struck, explained Martha Heller, CEO of Heller Search Associates.

In fact, BCG research shows that, even in ‘normal’ times, 70 percent of digital transformations fall short of their objectives, often with profound consequences. “To prove that you can succeed where others have failed, look deep inside the company,” Heller advised. 

The inability to deliver fundamental change has many companies reconsidering the type of CIO they really need, added Lily Haake, head of the CIO Practice at Harvey Nash.

Examining a company’s processes and products can help you uncover and suggest opportunities to drive revenue or increase efficiency and customer engagement. For example, digitizing supply chains, automating factory tasks or using artificial intelligence (A.I.) and machine learning for new product development are all strategies that smart CIOs have embraced. 

During any job interview, be ready to describe the transformative initiatives that you’ve led and the impact those projects had, while citing examples of sub-skills such as change management, actions and strategies that make digital transformation work. 


During the hiring process, provide evidence of your ability to adapt to changing circumstances and embrace new ways of working quickly. By doing so, you’ll show off that key skill of CIOs everywhere: adaptability. 

For example, with budgets potentially under more strain in the year ahead, endorsing the democratization of IT through distributed ownership of software or SaaS programs, distributed cloud, and the adoption of low-code app development, will show that you’re willing to make investments in technologies that are not only cost-effective but deliver fast results, Haake said. 

When providing other concrete examples of your ability to adapt, such as dealing with last-minute changes from stakeholders or shifting priorities, always explain what worked and what didn’t. Admitting mistakes (along with your solutions to those mistakes) shows credibility, insight, humility and strength, she advised.

Architectural Vision

While a contemporary CIO does not need to understand how every tool or program works, they do need a clear understanding of the components and layers that comprise modern, flexible architecture. That will better allow them to plan and achieve major goals around data security, transitioning to the cloud, and digital transformation.

Being aware of the role that architecture plays in driving initiatives that have a positive impact on business results can position you as a transformative candidate—one capable of turning a digital laggard company into a digital leader.

Crisis Management

If there’s one thing we learned in 2020, it’s that tech leaders need crisis management skills, including familiarity with the fundamentals, behaviors and processes to anticipate and deal with unforeseen roadblocks, talent shortages or operational issues.

Be mindful that emotional intelligence traits, including empathy and compassion, are essential for leaders whose companies and staff are impacted by crises. As you prepare situations and examples for your next interview, think about how your behaviors and emotions have affected those around you.

Diversity and Inclusion 

Cultivating diversity and inclusion is no longer the sole responsibility of HR. Because research shows that companies with more diverse teams outperform those with a more homogeneous workforce, CIOS are increasingly expected to lead the way when it comes to integration and diversity initiatives.

Providing anecdotes about your achievements in improving diversity, developing talent or building a cohesive multicultural team is a great way to set yourself apart. Consider devoting a portion of your application materials to discussing your diversity efforts, since a rising number of companies will view such initiatives favorably. 


The increased volume of cyberattacks during the pandemic, accelerated by the permanent transition to remote work, means that CIOs must know current and emerging threats and the best ways to prevent and mitigate various types of attacks using state-of-the-art tools, solutions and approaches.

Self-Aware CIO Leadership

No matter what your leadership style is, have an understanding of what type of leader you are and how you leverage your style and strengths to achieve results, even in uncertain times. “Are you good at empowering others, listening or believe in having an open-door policy?” Heller asked.

The more you understand about your leadership style, and its strengths and weaknesses, the more effective you’ll be during the interview and as a CIO.