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How to Become a Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

Find out how to become a chief executive officer (CEO). Research the education requirements, and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in executive management.

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Do I Want to Be a Chief Executive Officer?

Chief executive officers work alongside other top executives to establish a corporation's policies and vision. CEOs are considered the head of a corporation and are responsible for providing direction for the company and making certain that goals are met.

CEOs can work at a wide variety of businesses, from small startups to corporations with thousands of employees. This can lead to a lot of stress, particularly since many CEOs must put in overtime on a regular basis. Travel may also be needed for the job.

Job Requirements

A bachelor's or master's degree in the business sector is a common requirement for chief executive officers. They typically must first take a lower managerial position and work their way up within a corporation, accumulating several years of experience. The following table contains the main qualifications and requirements needed to become a CEO, as listed by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Common Requirements
Degree Level Bachelor's or master's degree
Degree Field Business administration or an industry-related field
Certification Not required, but available through the Institute of Certified Professional Managers
Experience Several years of prior management experience often required
Key Skills Communication, leadership and management skills
Additional Skills Ability to work under pressure; willingness to travel for work

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the minimum education for most chief executive officer positions is a bachelor's degree. Majors for aspiring CEOs might include liberal arts, business administration or public administration. If a prospective CEO plans to enter a specific industry, such as health care administration, prior coursework or a bachelor's degree in that field can be useful.

Step 2: Complete a Master's Degree Program

Many aspiring chief executive officers choose to pursue a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or a similar graduate degree. These programs can be pursued before finding work within an industry or after having been employed for some time. Those who are currently working in a corporate or managerial position can enroll in a part-time professional or executive MBA program that integrates practical work knowledge into the curriculum. MBA students might take classes in strategic management, finance, organizational theories and managerial economics.

Success Tips:

  • Complete an internship. Graduate programs often include internship opportunities that can allow future CEOs to acquire work experience while still enrolled in school. Students might also pursue study abroad options that allow them to study international business and develop practical skills.
  • Choose a concentration. Most MBA programs require their students to select a concentration to focus their studies on. These individuals can take advantage of this opportunity by selecting an emphasis that relates to the industry they wish to advance in. Many programs allow students to specialize in fields like marketing, finance, information technology, environmental sustainability, public policy and health administration.

Step 3: Gain Experience

It is rare to enter straight into a career as a chief executive officer. Instead, most aspiring CEOs start at a lower-level management position within a company and work their way up until a CEO opening is available. Many also keep an eye on openings within other organizations, so there is the potential to change companies while still advancing.

Success Tip:

  • Get involved. Companies may offer corporate training or development programs, which can help potential chief executive officers learn the tricks of the trade and teach them how to be a high-level manager. It's also important to show dedication in the field; the BLS reported that those who wish to rise into executive positions must often work long hours that include nights, weekends and holidays.

Step 4: Consider Voluntary Certification

Voluntary certification is another way to demonstrate knowledge and proficiency in a CEO's work duties. The Institute of Certified Professional Managers offers the designation of Certified Manager, which requires a minimum amount of education, experience and training, as well as a passing exam score. Eligibility to sit for the exam is determined by a system of points based on the years of education and experience that a candidate has accumulated.

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