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How to Become an Executive: 4 Steps

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Executive titles are the most prestigious in the corporate world. Top-tier professionals, also called “C-suite executives”, are instrumental to the success of large enterprises and so they must draw on a wide range of business and leadership skills to drive continuous growth and innovation.

There is no set formula for achieving an executive role. Indeed, it is notable that many well-known CEOs, COOs, CFOs, CIOs and so on, took their own unique paths to the top.

However, these high-performing individuals share commonalities, particularly in terms of approach, experience and education. In this post, we’re going to break down four key steps that anybody can take to lay the foundation for a career as an executive.

What Is an Executive?

Executives hold significant amounts of influence and responsibility within a company. While there is no agreed-upon definition of the job title “executive”, it generally entails a substantial amount of autonomy within an organization or department. Executives will not usually have to report to a senior person in regards to their specific duties, other than perhaps the chief executive officer (CEO).

Perhaps the most well-known executive job labels fall under the loose category of “C-suite titles”. These include, but are not limited to, chief executive officer (CEO), chief operating offices (COO), chief financial officer (CFO) and chief information officer (CIO).

According to, the average salary for an executive is $71,075 and includes a number of additional benefits. Salaries for the most senior positions can easily run into the millions, and many CEOs of top companies are among the wealthiest people in the world.

1.  Pursue a Well-Rounded and High-Quality Education

Your formal education acts as the foundation of your entire career.  The majority of CEOs have graduate degrees. Many also have postgraduate MBAs.

Obtaining high-quality qualifications achieves two objectives. First, it assures your employer that you have comprehensive business training and are proficient in core skills. Second, if you pursue postgraduate education in particular, you can specialize in key areas that are well-suited to executive roles, such as international marketing, human resources management, finance and so on.

It’s important to keep in mind that most executives work their way up through a company. In the preponderance of cases, executives are not hired from outside the company straight into senior positions. For example, one research study shows that 69% of CFOs were appointed internally.

Having a complete resume in regards to your academic qualifications signals to your employer that you are suitable for high-level roles. Having an MBA might not be enough on its own to land you the job. But it means that the door will be open.

2.  Cultivate Leadership Skills

Leadership skills are usually referred to as “soft skills”. They can loosely be categorized as interpersonal skills, and are distinct from “hard”, practical skills tied to specific outcomes. Individuals with soft skills can motivate and manage teams while dealing effectively with any conflicts that arise.

Large companies will often prioritize soft skills over other proficiencies because they become increasingly important as somebody gains more responsibility in a company. For these reasons, you should actively cultivate leadership skills from the very outset of your career.

Leaders will usually be proficient in the following areas:

  • Presentation
  • Team-management
  • One-on-one communication
  • Stress management
  • Motivation
  • Conflict resolution

Engaging in activities outside of a business context, such as sports, charity work and community initiatives, are ways of developing soft skills, and employers will consider these things when executive openings become available.

3.  Commit to Building Your Network

Your network is one of your most important assets as a would-be executive. Many companies ask for recommendations from senior professionals when evaluating employees for top positions. And candidates with networks that include executives are more likely to receive endorsements that carry weight.

Equally, if your professional network also contains recruitment executives and CEOs, you have a greater chance of being considered when jobs become available at other companies.

It’s also a good idea to build relationships with executive recruitment companies. These firms specialize in sourcing people for high-level positions and are trusted by many enterprises.

4.  Develop Your Personal Brand

Most CEOs have recognizable personal brands and it is increasingly common for top executives to have large followings on social media platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter, where they regularly post updates and original content.

Building your personal brand goes hand in hand with growing and maintaining your network. Having a large reach, especially one that leverages multiple social media channels, ensures that influential members of your network are aware of you.

If you regularly post on LinkedIn, for example, you are more likely to be at the forefront of recruiters’ minds when jobs become available. Individuals with strong personal brands are also more readily associated with particular skill-sets and talents.

Start to build your personal brand as soon as possible, refining your content strategy as you progress along your chosen career path.

Prepare for an Executive Role With EU Business School

According to global research from Heidrick & Struggles, 58% of CEOs have advanced degrees. Of that number, 26% have MBAs. If you have the ambition to achieve an executive role within a company, pursuing postgraduate education will give you the best possible chance of success.

At EU Business School we offer a range of courses designed to cultivate world-class business leadership skills. Our selection of Master’s and MBA programs, along with our bridging course designed for mid-tier and senior professionals, provide students with specialized training and experience, enabling them to thrive in their chosen fields.

As a student, you’ll also have the option to study in one of Europe’s leading business hubs. Our campuses, in cities as diverse as Barcelona, Geneva, Munich and others, provide a range of networking and internship opportunities.

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