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How do I make the leap to chief investment officer?

This week’s problem

I am a senior pension investment manager with 20 years’ experience. A hard-working attitude has helped me to build my career and achieve top-notch credentials. However, I now wish to advance to the next level — chief investment officer — but I don’t know how to do it. Anonymous

Jonathan’s answer

With many years’ experience, a good work attitude, and excellent credentials, you now feel ready and able to climb another rung on the ladder to a more senior position of responsibility. Despite your experience in your industry, you are wondering how to make the leap to the next level.

Before you start to plan useful actions to take, it is worth analysing why you wish to advance to the next level. You may be seeking higher pay, new intellectual challenges, more line management responsibility, or a chance for leadership. It will be useful to assess your objectives honestly as the answers could reveal your underlying motivation. The answers may also point you in a different direction to the one you have identified, and it is always useful to have a Plan B, and explore other paths.

It is a commonplace of organisations that to get paid more, one usually has to be higher in the hierarchy. If pay is your main motivation, remember that leadership roles are not for everyone and there are many examples of excellent number twos not performing well when they are promoted. Indeed, leaders are not necessarily the smartest or hardest working, as successful bosses bring other traits for inspiring their team.

Audit your own skills, and ones that you can learn, to see if you have what you think would make you a good leader, and in your case, chief investment officer. Perhaps more importantly, try to assess if others think you have the necessary skills, especially those who will be making appointments to such roles.

Armed with a list of the skills and experiences of successful CIOs, and how well you match these skills, seek out some people in the role, or the roles above, to check your understanding. You could use these meetings to explore whether there are any unwritten or difficult to quantify assessments people are making.

All senior appointments will have a large element of assessing the human interaction, or to put it another way, “Do they want to work with you?” Have you already been approached by senior colleagues, in your current or another organisation, that suggest they see you as CIO material? If so, that is a strong positive signal and if not, it shows that perhaps there is work to be done in changing people’s perception of your skills, experience and achievements.

Readers’ advice

Write your CV (of a successful CIO) 10 years ahead in time and map the steps needed to bridge that gap. McSweeney

This step up is not about hard work, but about coffee breaks and personal meetings. Got to get support from other senior or up and coming peers! BL

Leverage your existing contacts to learn what you need to know. People you’ve worked with — and other people they can refer you on to — should be able to provide you what you need. LondonReader

Next problem

I have a background in investment banking and running my own business. I now work in asset management and am interested in becoming a non-executive director. Where do I start? Are there any organisations I can join where I can learn about being an NED, meet people with a similar background and such experience? Female, 30s

Jonathan Black is director of the Careers Service at the University of Oxford. Every fortnight he answers your questions on personal and career development and working life. Do you have a question for him? Email: dear.jonathan@ft.com

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