10 min read

How To Find And Recruit The Right CEO For Your Business

Lauren O'Donoghue
Lauren O'Donoghue February 13, 2023
how to find and recruit the right ceo

A good CEO usually has a rare mix of skills and personality traits. According to the Harvard Business Review, successful CEOs tend to demonstrate the following four behaviors:

  1. Making decisions with speed and conviction
  2. The ability to engage with others
  3. Adapting proactively
  4. Delivering consistently and reliably

It's also notoriously tough to be a CEO. CEO Magazine reports that one-fifth of CEOs in 2022 didn't have a favorable economic outlook for the year ahead, with worries compounded by the global context of supply chain issues, rising inflation, and a worldwide labor shortage.

All in all, it can be a daunting prospect to hire a CEO. But this article will give you the tools you need to plan an effective recruitment process so you can find the best person possible to lead your business.

how to find and recruit a ceo for your business

What are the responsibilities of a CEO?

Whatever the business or sector, the one thing that unites all CEOs is the ultimate responsibility for the company they manage.

This means overall accountability for how the business is run; making significant decisions and communicating these to relevant stakeholders, defining and executing the strategy, and ensuring legal business practice.

In addition, good CEOs will want to ensure staff satisfaction, enhance the reputation of the company they run and even consider the ethical, moral, and environmental implications of the decisions they make on behalf of the business.

Technical skills and abilities to look for when recruiting a CEO

It's essential to have a solid understanding of business as a CEO, even if you're not technically skilled in every area of running a business. Whether it's a formal qualification in business or plenty of experience to suggest the right level of understanding, business acumen will be one of the key things you're looking for in your hunt for a CEO.

CEOs are responsible for developing and implementing the business strategy, so practical experience in doing so will be really valuable. The strategy will define the overall goals and objectives of the business, and the plan of how to get there — valuable information for all employees.

A solid grasp of finance is important for most CEOs. Even if the business has a finance department, the CEO must be able to review, analyze and interpret numbers to ensure the business isn't operating at a loss.

CEOs also need to have strong written and presentation skills so they can effectively share ideas and communicate with stakeholders at all levels. This ensures a level of professionalism that people will expect of the CEO.

Soft skills to look for when recruiting a CEO

Often overlooked, soft skills are really important when it comes to hiring the right person for the job — especially when you're looking for a CEO.

Without a doubt, one of the most important skills for every CEO is communication. A successful CEO will be able to adapt their communication style to talk to everyone from trustees and key stakeholders, to the operational staff that keeps a company running smoothly.

Closely connected to communication is an effective leadership style. The best CEOs are those that motivate and inspire their staff to work together to achieve a common goal or objective. That often means leading by example.

An ability to think critically and solve problems quickly and decisively is also key. CEOs need to trust their instincts and make challenging decisions without hesitation. Those who can keep calm under pressure will therefore be better suited to the role.

How to find a CEO

Finding the right CEO won't be an easy job. You may need to cast your net wide and look at multiple different recruitment routes, networking opportunities, and advertising approaches to find that special candidate who ticks all the boxes.

Recruitment agencies

Specialist recruitment agencies can be a really useful tool in your hunt for a CEO.

Not only will they have an established list of contacts, but they'll also be able to connect you with a wider pool of candidates to help you increase your pool of interested people. They will even speak to people that may not be actively looking, in a bid to secure the perfect person for the position.

Recruiters also make things easier by screening candidates before they send a resume your way. This can drastically reduce the time and energy you're investing into the early stages of the process.


Referrals can be one of the best ways to source new talent.

Whether your company operates an incentivized referral scheme or not, it can be useful to ask people within the business if they'd like to refer anyone for the role.

Most people will only suggest friends or colleagues they trust and respect, as referring to the wrong person could have a direct impact on the way they are viewed. As a result, it can be a highly effective way of sourcing new talent.

It's worth speaking to employees, directors, and peers to see if anyone wants to make a referral.

Internal promotions

Sometimes, the answer is right in front of you. Are there any directors or senior managers who could be interested in taking on the role?

Whether internal candidates actively apply, or you seek them out through targeted conversations, it can be beneficial to hire someone already working for the business. Not only will they have a wealth of business knowledge, but you'll also already have a good idea of how they work, how well they're respected by their peers, and if they possess the qualities needed to drive the business forwards.


Networking is one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal when it comes to recruitment.

Make a list of upcoming events and conferences to attend, and people you might want to talk to about the role. Having conversations, either formally or informally, can be a great way to get the ball rolling, and the right applicants to express interest.

These days, virtual networking can be even more effective. Whether it's making new connections on LinkedIn, putting a call out via your social networks, or sharing what you're looking for with your contacts, never underestimate the power of networking.

Job boards

Job boards specializing in high-level recruitment will be a valuable asset in your search for the right CEO.

Try sites such as CEO Worldwide, Exec Thread, or All Executive Jobs. These job boards are specifically designed for senior management positions and can give your job advert an extra boost while ensuring it's seen by the right people.

how to find and recruit the right CEO for your business

How to recruit a CEO

When hiring a CEO, it's essential to get your recruitment process right.

Ensuring a thorough and structured approach will help you attract the right talent, ask the right questions and ultimately — hire the right person.

The following steps set out the best way to recruit for a high-level position such as this.

Step 1: Determine what you want the CEO to achieve

It might be that you're hiring a CEO to fill a vacancy, or it might be because you're looking for someone to fix a certain problem or make a specific change. Whatever the reason, it's important to be clear for the business and your hire what the expectations are.

Consulting with senior staff, trustees, and even shareholders regarding the CEO's goals and objectives will be an essential part of shaping the interview process and hiring the right person.

You may also want to look at the metrics for success, and how the CEO will be measured against them.

Step 2: Write a CEO job description

The job description you write should be reflective of the company you're hiring for. E.g. the tone of the advert for a creative agency may be quite different from one for a financial services company.

Try to keep the detail concise, while giving a good picture of the expectations, goals, and ambitions for the role.

You may also want to outline the interview process and key details such as salary, start date, and any additional perks.

Step 3: Source candidates

Sourcing candidates will be made easier by a multipronged approach.

First of all, look at your close connections. This includes people already working for the business, colleagues, and peers in other similar roles or referrals from connected insiders.

If this doesn't prove fruitful, or if you want to widen your pool of prospects, you can look at advertising on job boards, posting on your accounts, speaking to recruiters, or enlisting a headhunter.

Step 4: Use psychometric assessments

Psychometric assessments are an incredibly useful recruitment tool, whatever level of candidate you're hiring for, so don't overlook them in your hunt for a CEO.

The first thing to establish is the key skills you want and need from the CEO. It might be that strong communication skills are non-negotiable, in which case you may want to include a verbal reasoning test. Or if a strong grasp of budgets and finances is more important, then try a numerical reasoning test.

A situational judgment test is always a good idea as it can be tailored to suit the role at hand, and will put each candidate in hypothetical situations to see how they react. Similarly, a personality test can give you really useful additional insight.

Setting psychometric tests early on in the process, perhaps even before screening resumes, is a good way to minimize the investment in candidates that aren't suitable for the role. You can also then use the results from the tests to inform the questions you ask in interviews.

Step 5: Interview

It's important to get the interview right.

Firstly, establish who needs to be in the room at each stage. This could be anyone from directors and trustees to shareholders, so it's essential to agree on a panel early on.

Questions should broadly focus on the individual's areas of expertise and experience and what they could bring to the business.

You'll also want to ensure their commitment and vision by asking questions related to the business and what they'd do to improve it, e.g. 'What's the first change you'd make?'. Or, 'How would you help us to achieve X goal?'.

Key takeaways

It takes a lot to become a CEO, so it's little wonder it can take a while to find the right one for your business.

The key is to plan your recruitment process effectively so you take advantage of all your connections, ensure a rigorous testing phase, and design a thorough process that reveals the key strengths and weaknesses of any prospective candidates.

It may be time-consuming, but by following the steps listed in this article you're already on your way to hiring a fantastic CEO with the knowledge, skills, and talent to take the business to the next level.

Lauren O'Donoghue
Lauren O'Donoghue February 13, 2023

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