CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a CEO.
Is becoming a CEO right for me?
The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:
Still unsure if becoming a CEO is the right career path? Take the free CareerExplorer career test to find out if this career is in your top matches. Perhaps you are well-suited to become a CEO or another similar career!
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The CEO Mindset
The CEO leadership mindset is often cultivated early in life. Start preparing for the role as early as high school. Here’s how:
• Be a conscientious student
• If available to you, select economics, finance, and business studies
• Run for leadership positions
• Participate in extracurricular activities that allow you to apply debating, organizational, and managerial abilities
Unless you are the founder of your own business, your chances of making it to the top job without a degree are very slim.
At the undergraduate level, the school at which you complete your studies is not of primary importance. Research has shown that at the graduate level, however, grades matter less than the school’s brand and the networks formed.
Almost 40% of Fortune 100 CEOs earned a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Sixty percent of them graduated from an elite school, like Harvard – still considered the place to go.
Experience / Promotions
While there is no standard, across-the-board, clear path for a CEO, a diverse business and experience background is often the foundation for a leadership career. In other words, it is rare – almost impossible – to start your career as a Chief Executive Officer.
The consensus is that when CEOs understand and have worked in an array of industries, business sectors, and lower-level management roles, they are well positioned to leverage what they have learned in a multitude of different professional environments. After all, taking initiative, developing ideas, managing people, and understanding metrics, are very transferable skills.
The key, of course, is to keep getting promoted – again, again, and again! Move from an operational role to running a large division to perhaps running an international division.
It is interesting to note that 75% of Fortune 100 CEOs come from an operations background. And while in those roles, they don’t hesitate to take on tasks or projects that are out of their comfort zone!
Quite simply, they build a portfolio of experience doing everything they do well, running things, managing people, and making measureable positive impacts on the bottom line. And when they are not offered the promotion they know they deserve, they ask for it.
While CEO jobs do not themselves require licensure or certification, several organizations offer voluntary management credentials that demonstrate a high level of business knowledge and expertise. The Institute of Certified Professional Managers is one such organization.
It is clear that the road to becoming a CEO has many variations. There are however, two absolute non-negotiables for anyone wishing to succeed in this elevated position:
Compile a team that compensates for your own shortcomings
Don’t look for people exactly like you. Seek out those who know things that you do not, who round you out, and who challenge you.
The best leaders are transparent and humble. They know that humility does not equal weakness. They are able to take a step back, listen intently, embrace the better ideas of others, give credit, and unfailingly remain aligned with whatever is best for the business.