"If the failure was outside the CIO's purview, such as a change in business circumstances or corporate strategy, I would have references who could confirm that information," says Polansky. He adds that executive recruiters and employers will contact the references the candidate provides as well as individuals they know in the candidate's industry to vet the candidate's story.
5. How you discuss your failure is sometimes more important than the actual failure. John Hamm, author of Unusually Excellent: The Necessary Nine Skills Required for the Practice of Great Leadership (Jossey-Bass 2011), notes that the questions about failed projects that come up during a job interview are sometimes a smokescreen. When a CEO asks a prospective CIO questions about a failed project, the CEO may be more interested in how the CIO confronts the failure, rather than the project itself, he says.
"The CEO could be testing for how the CIO sees the situation and if the CIO is willing to be accountable," adds Hamm, who is also a former CEO. "They know the [CIO] role is hard and that stuff fails. They want to know how you [the candidate] will handle it."
It is possible for CIOs to continue enriching careers in IT leadership despite high-profile flops staining their track records. After all, most organizations have some tolerance for failure.
"If you don't take risks, you can't try anything new," says Handal. "And if you take risks, you'll have some failures. Encouraging people to take risks is an important part of any organization, so you have to be tolerant of failure."
Adds Polansky, "It's always possible to recover. Sometimes, it just has to be at the right place and right time."
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