3 Tips for Drafting a C-Level Position Description

C-level Position Description

When you need to fill an open seat within your organization, Step One is usually the creation of a detailed job description. This is essentially a blueprint, and sometimes a wish list, of the ideal qualities and experience you’d like to have in that role.

For most positions, there’s plenty of help available for this task. A quick internet search on “job description <role>” will turn up any number of boilerplate templates ready to be quickly and easily customized to your needs.

Until you get to the C suite, that is. Search for job descriptions for a CEO, CIO or other top-level position and you’ll find a corner of the internet with virtual tumbleweeds rolling down the street.

With a misfire at this level being so costly, you want to clearly and carefully define your needs. So how do you create an appropriate description for these most important roles? Here’s some advice:

Consider a wider skill set. The first temptation here is to put skills first, targeting top-level subject mastery for a given discipline. For example, you might lead with strong technical skills for a CIO or financial abilities for a CFO. But just as your top salesperson doesn’t always make the best sales manager, a strong technical manager might not be the best choice for a C-level role.

A Harvard Business Review post notes: “Once people reach the C-suite, technical and functional expertise matters less than leadership skills and a strong grasp of business fundamentals.” In other words, your C-level personnel shouldn’t be doing break/fix tasks anymore, but demonstrating their abilities to develop business models, risk management strategies, succession plans and other long-term, big-picture initiatives. They need to help steer the ship, not shovel coal into the boiler.

Look forward, not back. If you’re filling a role that already existed, resist the urge to go out and find a carbon copy of the departing executive, no matter how capable they were. This is your opportunity to take an objective look at the position and not just the person. Chances are that your company’s needs and strategies have evolved since the departing exec came on board; how does that affect the qualities you’re seeking?

An executive advisor can be a big help with this. We always advise organizations seeking to fill executive positions to begin with strategy. From that starting point you can hire for the skills and qualities that best mesh with the company’s needs and goals. Hiring a so-called superstar is tempting, but if their way of doing things is out of alignment with your organization culture, you have a potential disaster on your hands.

Think short-term. One of the best moves in defining a C-level position can be a test drive, in the form of a temporary or fractional hire. Bringing someone on board in a consultative capacity, either part time, for a limited term or both, can help to define the exact qualities you’ll need in your permanent hire. You’ll come away with a much better grasp of the who, the how, and most importantly the why, behind your position description. As a bonus, your temporary CXO is often an excellent resource in locating, vetting and hiring your permanent executive. Again, this is a method that puts organizational strategy and culture first.

C-level job descriptions might be hard to find, but there is a path to success and an effective and lasting hire. We’re here to help.