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C-Level Executive Career Guide

How to Become a C-Level Executive

C-level or C-suite executives hold senior leadership positions within a company. They make impactful decisions to grow the businesses and make lasting changes to how the company functions. 

Many companies have several c-suite executive positions, ranging from CEO to CISO. Each position plays a key role within the company and is essential for overseeing the organization and leading its employees to success. 

C-suite executives are dedicated individuals who devote their time and energy to their careers. This guide will teach you how to become a C-level executive. 

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What Is a C-Level Executive?

The “C” stands for chief, meaning that C-suite executives are high-ranking authorities or officers within their area of expertise. Each C-suite executive will handle different aspects of the business, with some overlaps between the positions. 

The most common C-level executive positions include the following:  

CEO. CEO stands for chief executive officer and represents the highest C-suite position within a business. They oversee the entire organization, including other C-suite professionals, and help determine the future of the company by setting its course.

COO. COO stands for chief operating officer. Individuals with this title operate below the CEO and handle the day-to-day operations within the company. 

CFO. CFO stands for chief financial officer. Professionals with the title of CFO are in charge of the organization's short- and long-term finances.

CIO. CIO stands for chief information officer, who is responsible for strategic planning and management of the information technology (IT) department.

CMO. CMO stands for chief marketing officer. An individual holding this title creates marketing strategies for the business and oversees brand management. 

CTO. CTO stands for chief technology officer. The CTO in a company may work with the CIO to oversee the IT department. However, their responsibility is to lead technology development within the company. 

CISO. CISO stands for chief information security officer. In an industry where data breaches are becoming more prevalent, this position provides essential security for the organization's data and sensitive information. 

The size and finances of a business will determine how many C-suite executives are hired. For example, in small companies, the CEO may take on the role of all other C-suite executives. Comparatively, a corporation may include additional professionals such as CHRO, CSO, CDO, and COO. 

To become a C-level executive, you will generally need to have at least a bachelor’s degree and continue to pursue higher education.

What Does a C-Level Executive Do?

C-level executives have a range of responsibilities and must be prepared to pick up new skills to meet the growing demands of their position. Some of the most common day-to-day responsibilities of an individual with a C-level executive position may include: 

  • Collaborating with other C-suite professionals to ensure fluidity within the business
  • Leading your team and providing feedback to managers
  • Reviewing team performance and creating new plans for team output
  • Hosting meetings to discuss concerns, plans, and trends
  • Reviewing proposals from administrators 

The day-to-day responsibilities of a C-level executive will fluctuate depending on their specific position. For example, the responsibilities of a CIO will pertain heavily to the IT department. The CIO will work directly with IT professionals to ensure that all IT-related projects benefit the business.  

In contrast, the CFO will track cashflow and create plans for future finances within the business. Although both positions are C-suite, their responsibilities are vastly different.

What Education Does a C-Level Executive Need?

Unless you start your own business and appoint yourself CEO, if you want to become a C-suite executive you need to have at least a bachelor’s degree in a related field. Those who are unsure which type of C-suite executive they want to become can earn a bachelor’s in business management before continuing their education to obtain a master’s in management and leadership.

In many cases, having a higher level of education proves to businesses that you have expertise in your area. Many C-level executives have master’s degrees in business administration or a master’s in their specific field. 

Best Degrees for C-Level Executives

Business Management – B.S. Business Administration

Hone your business acumen and garner added respect:...

Hone your business acumen and garner added...

Hone your business acumen and garner added respect:

  • Time: 70% of graduates finish within 41 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,720 per 6-month term.

Sample careers and jobs this business degree will prepare you for:

  • Account executive
  • Business analyst
  • Program manager
  • Director or senior director
  • Vice president

This online degree program is an excellent choice for kick-starting your organizational management career.

Master of Business Administration

The flexible MBA program you need, focused on business...

The flexible MBA program you need, focused on...

The flexible MBA program you need, focused on business management, strategy, and leading teams:

  • Time: Graduates can finish in 12 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $4,675 per 6-month term.

Sample careers and jobs this business degree will prepare you for:

  • President and CEO
  • Vice president
  • Executive director
  • Chief strategic officer

Our competency-based model gives you an innovative learning experience you won't find anywhere else—and our MBA grads tell us they loved accelerating their program to see a faster ROI.

Management and Leadership – M.S.

An online master's degree focused on change management,...

An online master's degree focused on change...

An online master's degree focused on change management, innovation, and leading teams:

  • Time: Graduates can finish in 12 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $4,675 per 6-month term.

Sample careers and jobs this business degree will prepare you for:

  • President
  • Vice president
  • Director of operations
  • Executive director

Develop a comprehensive suite of leadership skills and your confidence to navigate changing business structures.

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What Skills Does a C-Level Executive Need?

Individuals who want to become C-level executives must be highly skilled. To embark on a career path leading to a C-suite position, you will need to demonstrate the following skills: 

  • Leadership attributes: You need to inspire and motivate others to help the business thrive. Be honest, confident, decisive, and encouraging.  
  • Critical thinking: You will need to analyze information actively to make informed decisions. 
  • Decision making: As a chief executive, you will need to make decisions quickly based on limited information. 
  • Conflict management: You will be faced with a wide number of situations and deal with panicked individuals. Having skills to deescalate situations will be invaluable. 
  • Lifelong learning: You will need to adopt an attitude of constant learning to develop new and important leadership skills
  • Time management: You will need to manage your schedule to fit a hundred things into a single day on the job. 

When beginning a career path to becoming a chief executive, you will need to constantly look for ways to improve your leadership skills.

How Much Does a C-Level Executive Make?


According to BLS, chief executives earn an average hourly wage of $95.12 and an annual salary of $197,840. The lowest 10% earn less than $62,780 per hour, and the top 10% earn more than $208,000 per year. The industry where c-level executives work will have a large impact on their salary level. Similarly, the level of education is a key component in salary numbers.

What Is the Projected Job Growth?


The BLS source above notes that the job outlook for chief executives is 1%. This position is highly competitive, and many C-suite executives have years of experience before they are promoted to the position. Although the job outlook for this position is positive, it remains highly competitive.  

The BLS also records the job outlook for top executives is 4% growth. These executive positions include CEOs, general operations managers, mayors, governors, school superintendents, and university presidents.

Where Do C-Level Executives Work?


C-level executives earn their position by becoming experts in their field. They often have a decade or more of experience and several degrees to prove their expertise. A wide range of careers fall into the C-suite, making it difficult to pinpoint exact departments or units where these executives work. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the five industries with the highest levels of employment for chief executives include: 

-Management of companies and enterprises: According to the BLS, over 16,290 C-suite executives work in this industry. 

-Local government: About 15,010 work in this industry. 

-Elementary and secondary schools: About 9,540 work in this industry. 

-State government: About 9,000 work in this industry. 

-Computer systems design: About 8,920 work in this industry. 

C-level executives are business leaders, and nearly every industry will employ at least one to ensure the success and organization of their business. 


Interested in Becoming a C-Level Executive?

Learn more about degree programs that can prepare you for this exciting career.

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