Categories: Success

How To Beat Your Peers To The C-Suite And Become A CEO

When it comes to career planning, most young employees often don’t think past their next job or promotion, so it’s probably too much of a pipe dream to think about how to become a CEO one day. However, having such a goal isn’t a bad thing, but it will take plenty of work (and planning) in order to achieve it. To steadily climb the corporate ladder and, eventually, become a top executive, it takes a written, long-term plan you work on each year.

As 20-or-30-somethings, you may not have a clear vision on how to reach such a level or understand how to make such a plan. That’s why we’re here, though, to help with some tips on how to become a CEO, COO, or other top-level executive in the C-suite.

Work Backwards

You might think that your first step in creating a career plan is to prepare yourself for your next position. However, you need to plan your career like you’d plan a road trip — you don’t start with your first stop for gas, you start with your final destination and work backwards from there.

To increase the chances of making it to the top of your profession, and end your career on your terms, think about where you’d ultimately like to end up. Are one of these job titles what you’re aiming for?

  • CEO, COO, CFO, CIO or CMO
  • Law firm partner, senior partner or judge
  • Division director (e.g. HR, IT, marketing, finance)
  • Chief surgeon or hospital administrator
  • Business owner
  • Elected office

Identify Your Career Ladder’s Rungs

Once you know where you want to end up, identify the different jobs you’ll need to hold before you make it to the top. For example, if you work in communications, you might need to work as a copyeditor, writer, editor, managing editor, editor-in-chief, content manager, content strategist and/or associate publisher.

If you’re just out of college, your path might include staff member, coordinator, manager, director, C-suite officer.

Investigate Each Job

To make your way to the C-suite, each job you have will require a specific skills etc. From things like experience, specific abilities, education and training, among others. Identify the core competencies you’ll need.

Start by looking at job listings for each position to learn the skills that candidates for those jobs need. Visit the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook website, which provides detailed descriptions of thousands of jobs. Simply type in the title of the position you want to research and you’ll find job descriptions, education needed, training required, hiring outlook for the next 10+ years.

Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to mentors or current people who hold the job to get insight on their career path. Becoming a CEO takes work, so each person has a story of their own.

Fill Your Toolbox

Once you know the skills and abilities you’ll need for each job, determine how you’ll develop them. This can include things like:

  • Getting certified
  • Taking extra college courses
  • Attending industry seminars and workshops
  • Learning specific software programs
  • Developing leadership and team-building skills
  • Improving your business communications skills
  • Improving presentation/public speaking skills

Check to see if your company will reimburse for tuition or pay for training seminars, certification testing, trips to conferences or professional magazine subscriptions. In most cases, the initiative you take to progress your career will be rewarded.

Create A Career Calendar

Much like you would do when calculating a monthly budget for yourself, having a career calendar is a great way to know where you’re going and staying on course while planning your “career road trip.” Don’t just set “sales manager” as a goal. Include a realistic timeline for reaching that position based on what your previous research told you is required to get that job.

Instead of working backwards on this calendar, set the timeline for your next promotion, decide how long you should stay in that job before moving up, then set your next promotion deadline. Keep setting out dates until you’re in the C-Suite!

Develop Your Network

You’ve got the inspiration to become a CEO or business leader, so now’s the time to find the people who can help assist you in getting there yourself. The people in your network should hold titles you want to hold some day. They will be critically important when it comes time to learn more about what you need to do to obtain those positions. And, yes, this can include people who you haven’t met yet.

Manage Your Network

A list of important career people doesn’t do you much good if they aren’t motivated to help you. That means you need to stay in contact with them throughout your career path, not just when you’re job-hunting. Keep in touch with them via LinkedIn and personal emails. Go to the social, educational and business events in your profession in order to be seen and heard.

Ask people in your network for informational interviews. These are informal breakfasts or lunches at which you get to ask questions that help you gather the inside information you need in order to increase your chances of getting one of those C-suite jobs one day. Don’t offer a resume at an informational interview, but have yours updated and ready to send as soon as you get back to the office, just to stay top-of-mind and give them an idea of your background.

At the end of each year, review your network list to see how many people you’ve had contact with during the year.

Polish Your Job-Search Skills

Keep your resume and LinkedIn profile up to date. Ask for feedback from co-workers and people who hold titles you eventually want. Practice writing cover letters for specific positions well before you’re ready to apply for those jobs. Remember, constantly learning is, arguably, the most important thing you can do.

Start bookmarking job search sites that include niche industry boards, like job boards of trade magazines, professional societies and certifying bodies.

Build Your Personal Brand

Social media is a huge resource when advancing your career, but you need to understand how to use it to your advantage. In other words, only share content that represents you, not just things that are searching for a like or comment from followers. How you come across online will go a long way in how serous you’re taken for high-level jobs.

As you become more of a qualified professional in your field, start writing newsletter and magazine articles for your industry’s publications. Volunteer to speak. If you’re nervous about public speaking, start out by joining panel discussions to clam your nerves.

Join Boards

Serving on a board of directors will put you way ahead of most of your peers and is an invaluable tool to learn how to become a CEO. Many people don’t understand how easy it is to get onto a board of directors. Often times, trade associations are desperate for volunteers, and if the association has a professional staff, they do most of the work.

Start by volunteering to serve on a committee of your local, state or national trade association. Committees often oversee activities like newsletters, golf tournaments, membership recruitment and the annual conference. Committee members are often asked to become committee chairs after a year or two. From there, you’re likely to be asked to serve on the board of directors, starting out without a specific title. Your duties will often include attending quarterly board meetings (virtual or in-person) and providing feedback.

Put It In Writing

Create a document that guides you year-to-year in your career progression. Think of it as a business plan for John Smith, Inc. or Mary Jones, LLC. Give yourself an executive summary that includes your final destination and a list of the titles you’ll hold as you climb the ladder. List the specific skills and experiences you’ll need to acquire along the way. Outline your professional development steps and include dates for finishing each course or certification.

Review and update your career plan each year, writing down which aspects of your plan you accomplished during the past year, and what specific steps you’ll be taking during the upcoming year. Start writing your career document today and you’ll start moving up faster than you realized you could — and could find yourself sitting as a company’s CEO before you could ever imagine.

Lead image via Pexel

Steve Milano

Steve Milano is a journalist and business executive/consultant. He has helped dozens of for-profit companies and nonprofits with their marketing and operations. Steve has written more than 8,000 articles during his career, focusing on small business, careers, personal finance and health and fitness. Steve also turned his tennis hobby into a career, coaching, writing, running nonprofits and conducting workshops around the globe.

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