How to Become a Chief Operating Officer (COO)


Becoming a COO could be a great fit for you if you’re a leader, highly organized, and you pride yourself on your time management and ability to delegate responsibilities.


This field offers the chance to bring your best ideas to the table, and have a large impact on the success of a company. It also offers a great level of pay, and excellent opportunities for full or partial ownership of the business that employs you.


So, if you'd like to know more about the ins and outs of this profession 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 COO?

COO (Chief Operating Officer) is a title used to describe a high-ranking operations executive manager in a private or publicly traded organization. They are responsible for overseeing the executive of the strategic vision of the CEO.


Other titles to describe this role include President, General Manager, Managing Director, among others.



Education Needed to Become a COO

There is no set educational path for this occupation. However ideally, you will have a combination of post-secondary education, and plenty of relevant work experience.


The specific education that employers will want to see on your resume can vary quite a bit. Some employers will want to see that you have a degree business, while others will also accept a degree in a field relevant to their operations. 


While climbing the ladder, the person or board in charge of promoting you to COO probably won’t care if you have a bachelor’s instead of a master’s.


What they will care about is if you have a history of routinely making good things happen, with quality and accuracy. Having said that, you will likely at least need a bachelor’s degree to start down this path, unless you’re starting your own business.





Experience You’ll Need

Chief Operating Officer is an executive-level role. To get there, your resume will need to prove that you can handle all of the many responsibilities that come with the job. When choosing a COO, employers generally look for strong multi disciplinary generalists, who've had tours of duty in many different functional and leadership roles, and a history of success along the way.


They'll also want candidates that have experience managing multiple functions, which could include Product Development, Sales, Marketing, Operations, HR, and Support, as well as candidates that have experience managing multiple direct reports. Also, and maybe most importantly of all, they will want a candidate with a lot of experience in their industry. 



General Job Functions

So, what would you actually be doing if you worked as a COO? Although your job functions and duties as a chief operating officer can vary from job to job, you could expect to be responsible for what's described below, regardless of where you work:


• Developing, implementing and maintaining a strong effective work culture

• Setting and overseeing budget and revenue targets

• Acting as liaison between division leaders and top-level management

• Designing and implementing procedures and activities that can boost business growth

• Delegating strategic plan implementation tasks to division leaders

• Supervising corporate division leaders, such as Sales, Human Resources, Information and others

• Developing and implementing systems for tracking and reporting on the progress of the strategic plan

• Conferring regularly with the various division leaders to be updated on the progress of their respective divisions

• Providing effective and inspiring leadership by being actively involved in all programs and services





Is This Occupation a Good Fit For You?

It takes a lot more than a degree and some management experience to become the COO of an organization. Having the right personal traits and characteristics are of critical importance. If the following describes you, you might just have what it takes:


• You can make important decisions with confidence

• You’re comfortable, and skilled at, delegating work to others

• You can motivate and inspire others

• 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 operational decisions

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



What Types of Companies Employ COOs?

The role of COO can appear in small, medium and large companies of any kind, in virtually any sector of industry. However, it tends to be most common in operations-intensive businesses (although not all operations-intensive businesses operate with a COO).



Salary Level Typical to This Profession

The salary (or wage) you could earn as a COO 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


Please Note: The salary levels listed below are simply meant to serve as a guideline.


COO Salary - Canada (Alberta figures only): According to the 2018 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans working as part of the Operations Manager occupational group earn an average salary of $94,698 per year. According to the same salary survey, those working in the Senior managers - construction, transportation, production and utilities occupational group earn an average salary of $180,688 per year. We've used these two professions as our guideline, since no salary statistics were available specific for the occupation of COO. Unfortunately, no similar statistics were available for the rest of Canada 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.



Chief Operating Officer Jobs

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.




Typical Work Environment

Hours: As a COO, 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: Depending on the size of the organization, you may have numerous support staff helping you complete routine tasks. You might 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 being an executive, is that your work would be very demanding and stressful because of the intense pressure to succeed. If you find yourself working for a poorly performing organization, you may find your job in jeopardy.



Career Advancement Possibilities

Displaying competence and a good work ethic can put you in a great position to advance your career. Some career advancement options you may have include:


• An increase in salary and other forms of compensation, such as bonuses

• Moving into the role of Executive Director, or Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

• Taking on a similar role in another company, or moving to a smaller company that has better opportunities for partnership or ownership



Similar Occupational Profiles in Our System

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 operating officer:


• Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

• City Manager

• Director of Volunteer Services

• Entrepreneur

• Operations Analyst

• Operations Manager

• Project Manager




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



Wages & Salaries in Alberta:Senior Managers - Financial, Communications and Other Business Services.” (n.d.). 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.

Communication:Second in Command: The Misunderstood Role of the Chief Operating Officer.” Nathan Bennett & Stephen A. Miles (May, 2006). Harvard Business Review website. Retrieved November 4, 2019.


Please Note: Some information for this career path guide was also obtained from actual job postings, not listed above as they are no longer available.



Scholarships for Becoming a COO

The “Relevant Fields of Study” section below shows fields of study relevant to a career as a chief operating officer. You can search for scholarships matched to those fields of study on the following pages:


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 help set a great educational foundation for this line of work. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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