How to Become an Executive

Illustration of two people in a handshake, a man and a woman, another woman sitting with her laptop on her lap and another man  with his laptop sitting down

One day, you are a mail clerk in the basement of a large corporation holding on to your red stapler. The next day, you are the chief executive officer of the company and striking multi-million-dollar. How times can change in a blink of an eye; as Alvy Singer said in Annie Hall, ‘If life were only like that.’ 

Becoming an executive is a multi-faceted process that requires blood, sweat and tears, whether it is through a job search or navigating your way through a private enterprise. Whether you want to be a chief executive officer, a chief happiness officer or a chief operating officer, you cannot land this position overnight; it requires years of education, work experience, leadership and achievements to land the role of CEO or CFO. 

So, what can you do to be the top dog at an SMB or a multi-national corporation? We have compiled a detailed breakdown on how to become an executive. 

1. Earn a bachelor’s degree 

In the US, 36% of the population has a bachelor’s degree. And that number keeps growing, which means it could soon be as prevalent as a high school diploma.  

A university degree is imperative in today’s global economy and workforce. Unless you are starting your own business, a bachelor’s degree is essentially a prerequisite for any major job with a lot of responsibility, and that is at a large firm. 

Typically, it is best to hold a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field that would be useful in an executive position, such as business, marketing, finance, accounting or economics. But don’t think that your education ends after four years. 

2. Gain certifications

Gaining certifications and qualifications is not only another way to enhance your human capital, but it is also a great method to stand out from the competition and climb the corporate ladder. This is a critical step, and it can be done through continuing education institutions. 

For example, if you are working at a software firm, it would be prudent to hold something like Microsoft SQL certification in Database, a Certified Software Development Professional (CSDP) designation or Cisco CCNA Certification. 

Every industry has its own standards and unique list of certification programmes that can elevate your position in the sector and help you become an authority. 

3. Consider a graduate degree

A graduate degree is the one extra step you can take on your journey to chief knowledge officer or chief financial officer, whether it is at a business school or an Ivy League institution. 

For a lot of professionals in business, a master’s in business administration, or MBA, is a basic requirement. Many young graduates today will notice a growing list of employment advertisements asking candidates to hold a graduate degree, which is understandable for companies aiming to compete in the global marketplace. 

Just think of how much of a force you will be with an undergraduate degree, a graduate degree and professional certification. Now it is a matter of building real-world experience. 

4. Attain real-world experience

Perhaps you spent most of your 20s in college or university. Maybe you have been too sheltered in your opportunities, or it could be that you have been too select in your job prospects. Suffice it to say, to succeed as an executive one day you will need to have real-world experience.

There are all sorts of ways to accumulate this much-needed resume builder. Let’s face it: Staying in the same city all your life and studying and working may be great for your career but getting out of your comfort zone could be that one extra push that’ll help you land an executive position. 

So, how exactly do you attain real-world experience? Here are a few tips: 

This is the one thing that can take your CV to the next level. 

5. Build leadership skills

You may be a manager at a fast-food restaurant, or you may be working side-by-side with a seasoned executive vice president of talent relations; whatever your employment situation may be, it is imperative to build your leadership skills because they will come in handy when you become a chief executive officer. 

Here are just some of the things you can do, moving forward: 

  • Recognise, reward, and appreciate your colleagues or staff for their efforts and hard work on a project or even day-to-day duties and responsibilities. 
  • Speak your mind and be honest with both your superiors and your subordinates. It is important to tell others what you think, whether it is about a client or something the company is not doing right. 
  • Be your authentic self by refraining from becoming a ‘yes man’ to management. You must stand up to others if it is the right thing to do. 
  • Find opportunities in an organisation to showcase your skills and expertise. This might even be something outside of work. 
  • Do not afraid to present yourself in a positive light. There is a fine balance between being arrogant and selling yourself confidently. If you have the resume, the acumen and the success, there is nothing wrong with spotlighting your contributions to the firm. 
  • Build relationships with senior managers or executives in any company you work for. More importantly, do not bow down to them but rather treat them as your equal. 
  • Maintain a level of positivity, even if something is too much to handle. You need to project positivity, remain confident and provide solutions to whatever problems impact the business. 

6. Find the right entry-level role

Unless you have 20 years of experience, have transformed the industry and are ready to lead a workforce of 12,000 from day one, it is unlikely that you will be offered the role of CEO. For most young professionals, you need to start at the bottom and work your way up. This is why it is vital to find the right entry-level role when you are ready to make that commitment and begin to climb the ladder of success at the business – large or small.  

It is expected that millennials and Generation Zers will job hop, and while this may be something you can do when you are 23, it should be avoided when you in your 30s and your objective is to serve as an executive. 

Here are some tips to ensure you have selected the right entry-level job: 

  • Is the company reputable? Do you like the firm? Could you see yourself at the entity 20 years from now? 
  • Is there meaning in this role? Do you envision yourself performing all sorts of relevant tasks in the years to come?  
  • Where did you locate this employment opportunity? 

7. Work as a manager

When you were 18, did you work as a night-shift manager at an ice cream shop? Or did you manage the on-campus gin rummy club? Whatever the case, it is always best for your executive aspirations to have some management experience. Moreover, if you are starting a new career at a business, you could eventually be promoted to junior manager, which is just one step closer to the top. 

Remember, every type of management experience on your CV is crucial. 

8. Enhance your reputation

To become an executive one day, you need to be recognised for your hard work and achievements along the way - both internally and externally. The more you are celebrated for your excellence in execution, the good word will travel to the ears of the head honchos. 

That said, if you have yet to do anything to earn some recognition, then there are a few things you can do almost immediately: 

  • Volunteer to take on new opportunities within the organisation. 
  • Be positive about even the most difficult of tasks or the huge pile of work sitting on your desk. 
  • Take on assignments that might require additional travel or needs to be completed on evenings and weekends. 
  • If you have a chance to lead something, no matter how inconsequential or unimportant it seems, do it! 

One more thing: If you can find an executive mentor at a company, pick their brain and ask to shadow them on occasion. 

9. Develop your personal brand

Let’s face it: Everyone has a brand today. Branding is the best way for any new graduate or young professional to succeed in the global economy, and there are plenty of tools to advance a personal branding strategy. Websites, blogs, and social media are just some of the ways to develop a brand. Or, at the very least, get your name to the world.  

It is said that your personal brand is what differentiates you from others. When you are competing with hundreds of others for a job at one of the most sought-after companies in the world, you need a branding initiative to ensure you can set yourself apart from the competition. 

10. Form relevant connections

As the saying goes, it is often who you know and not exactly what you know. 

Some of the world’s most successful people have gotten to where they are by having a Rolodex of names in their back pocket. John Smith, who has a laundry list of credentials, cannot become an executive after keeping to himself and hiding away in his bachelor apartment. He needs to venture outside, mingle with the best of the best and form relevant connections. 

Many industrial newcomers may detest the disingenuous of building professional connections because both sides may be trying to get something out of the relationship; you are trying to get a promotion, while the other person is seeking somebody to complete a project. But socialising is still the go-to source for career advancement and eventually becoming one of the top people in the company. 

 

Who doesn’t want to become the next Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos? Of course, not every CEO in the world is a Tim Cook or Mark Zuckerberg, pulling in nine-figure earnings every year. The average CEO is like anybody else who works from 9 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday. 

The only difference for many CEOs across the world is the job title with a little bit more responsibility. That said, being an executive is a rewarding position that goes beyond financial compensation. Growing a business, managing an entire workforce and being a leader – these are just some of the day-to-day responsibilities of a CEO. Sure, you may get a few extra grey hairs and plenty of sleepless nights, but it’s one of the most important jobs in the economy. 

What makes you want to be an executive? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!