How to Become a Chief Executive Officer (CEO)


A career as a CEO could be a great fit for you if you’re a leader, a very hard worker, and you have a natural aptitude for business.


This field offers the chance to call the shots, and ultimately take responsibility for them. It also offers the opportunity to forge the identity of an entire corporation or non-profit organization, and an excellent level of pay.


So, if you'd like to know more about the ins and outs of this field then read on; we’ll fill you in on what you would be doing for a living, how much you could earn, and what you’ll need to break into this profession!



What is a CEO?

A chief executive officer (CEO) is the highest ranking executive manager in a private or publicly traded organization. They are responsible for making the tough strategic decisions that help their organization reach its goals.



Education Needed to Become a CEO

There is no set educational path for becoming a CEO. However, this job requires a great deal of strategic and operational competence. Earning certain degrees can make earning this role, and succeeding in it, a lot easier for you.


For example, as a CEO, you'll need a firm grasp of the fundamentals of budgeting, marketing, risk management, human resource management, stakeholder engagement, and many other business principals. Earning a degree related to business, or a field related to your work, will serve as a great foundation in these areas.


As for the education that boards of directors will want to see on your resume, it can vary quite a bit. While climbing the ladder, the person or board in charge of promoting you to CEO won’t care if you have a bachelor’s instead of a master’s.


What they will care about, is that you have a track record of success in your previous roles. Having said that, you will likely at least need a bachelor’s degree, unless you’re starting your own business, in which case nobody will be scrutinizing your level of education.





Experience You’ll Need

Although having an education in business, or a field related to your operations, will help you develop knowledge and competencies in business, and probably be what gets you in the door with an organization, work experience will be what really gets you promoted up the corporate ladder.


When choosing a CEO, a board of directors will often look for seasoned in-house leaders who have proven themselves for many years. To become what they’re looking for, sink your teeth into your job. Eventually, you will master that role. When management opportunities and other promotions become available, you will be a prime candidate.


Success Tip: Find a good company (or non-profit), and settle in for the long haul. Just be sure to show vision, competence, drive and initiative along the way.



More About This Career: General Job Description

As CEO, it would be your responsibility to devise, outline and implement the strategic direction of your organization.


To do so effectively, you would have to maintain awareness of both the external and internal competitive landscape, opportunities for expansion, customers, markets, new industry developments and standards, and so on.


You would also have to oversee the executive management team to ensure that the specific operational areas they oversee are aligned with the overall objectives of the organization and everyone is working effectively towards them.



Duties and Responsibilities

Although your duties as a chief executive officer can vary from job to job, you could expect to perform duties similar to those described below, no matter where you work:


• Decide courses of action to be taken by other members of executive management

• Oversee the work of executive managers for each operational area

• Ensure the work of each operational area is accomplishing its goals

• May act as an interface between the organization and the community

• Assist in the selection and evaluation of board members

• Responsible for ensuring all departments and divisions act towards a cohesive objective

• Confer with board relating to various strategic initiatives, as well as operational concerns and points of interest





Is Becoming a CEO Right for You?

There’s a reason not everyone can become a CEO. Aside from the right education and experience, there are a lot of other factors involved. Personal traits and characteristics are chief among them. If the following describes you, you might just have what it takes:


• You can make important decisions with confidence 

• You motivate and inspire others 

• You’re willing to do some public speaking

• You’re firm, but fair and enjoy leadership

• You’re willing to work long hours, and spend a lot of time away from home

• You’re willing to make sometimes have to make hard and unpopular choices, like putting people out of work

• You like the idea of being in charge, and getting to make most of the decisions in the running of a company

• You’re willing to take responsibility and accountability for the success of an organization



Who Employs CEOs?

A very wide range of organizations, in virtually any sector, could potentially employ you: from manufacturing to distribution, and from accountancy to recruitment.


You might also find work with medium-sized and large non-profit organizations and charities, as they employ top-level executives to increase the effectiveness of their marketing, management, fundraising, and other strategic efforts. 


While you would be top dog in a private company, you would answer to a board of directors if working for a publicly traded company or a non-profit organization. 


Success Tip: Most CEOs are promoted from within, rather than being hired as external candidates. They typically work in their organization for many years (usually anywhere from 5 to 30) before earning the top job. So find a good company or other employer and stick with 'em! 



Salary Level Typical to This Field

The salary (or wage) you could earn in this profession can vary widely, and typically depends on the following factors:


• Your professional qualifications (education and experience)

• The size and type of your employer

• The industry in which you work

• The region in which you work

• Many other factors


CEO Salary - Canada: According to the 2018 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans working as part of the Senior Managers - financial, communications and other business services occupational group earn an average salary of $166,586 per year. Unfortunately, no similar statistics were available for other Canadian provinces and territories at the time of writing (July 4, 2019).


Salary - United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary level of Americans working as part of the Top Executives occupational group is $173,320 per year.



Current Job Opportunities

Although job opportunities in this field are rarely posted online, from time to time they will be. Have a look below to see if there’s anything listed in your area.




Work Environment

Hours: As a CEO, you'd likely work regular, weekday working hours. It wouldn't be rare to find yourself going into work early, staying late, or going in on weekends in order to complete tasks and projects, or attend meetings, conferences, or other events.


Setting: You will likely have one of the largest offices in the building, and possibly the nicest view. Depending on the size of the organization, you would probably have numerous support staff helping you complete routine tasks. You would often travel to attend meetings and conferences, or to visit your company’s local, regional, national, and international offices, or branches.


Working Conditions: One of the downsides of this profession, is that your work would be very demanding and stressful because of the intense pressure to succeed. But if you thrive in under these sorts of conditions, then no sweat! If you find yourself working for a poorly performing organization, you may find your job in jeopardy.



Careers Similar to This in Our Database

Listed below are occupations in our database that have similar responsibilities, and/or require similar skills, or be in the same sector of industry, as chief executive officer:


• Chief Financial Officer (CFO)

• Chief Operating Officer (COO)

• Controller

• Entrepreneur

• Mayor

• Politician

• Project Manager




Please consult the following resources to learn more about what the executives do for a living, and how you can become one:



Wages & Salaries in Alberta:Senior Managers - Financial, Communications and Other Business Services.” (December 5, 2012). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved November 4, 2019.

Management: Top Executives.” (September 4, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved November 4, 2019.

Career Growth:How to Become CEO of a Huge Public Company.” Fred Decker (n.d.). Fortune website. Retrieved October 9, 2015.



Scholarships for Becoming a CEO

Scholarships found on the pages listed below are all relevant for becoming a CEO:


Business Administration Scholarships

Finance Scholarships

Management Scholarships


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Relevant Fields of Study

Studying one of the college/university majors listed below can be helpful for setting the proper educational foundation for this career. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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Chief Executive Officer (CEO)