CEO development · Recruiting

How do I evaluate whether a candidate will be a good CEO type?

Eli Cohen CEO/Founder of Simopps - Back Office Solutions

June 28th, 2016

Resumes stream in. How do I evaluate the candidates to determine whether I have a CEO type in the making? How can I determine whether they might stay committed to the project with only a maintenance salary until the equity stake becomes meaningful? Where/what are the best recruiting tools to find a passionate and committed CEO type?

Tom Cunniff Founder at Cunniff Consulting, B2B Brand Consultancy

June 28th, 2016

This post by Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures is pretty useful.

I honestly don't know how anyone can evaluate a CEO from a resume. My suggestion would be to seek referrals: great people tend to know great people. Pick a CEO you admire in a analogous industry and ask for suggestions.

Michael Meinberg Teacher (iOS Development) at The Mobile Makers Academy (A Hack Reactor School)

June 28th, 2016

That is really, really hard.   If they did not start out sharing your vision, to hire a CEO on a small salary and expect them to stick around through thick and thin - no way to guarantee that.   People stick around for low pay because they are passionate about the company and/or they think it has large upside potential (mostly the former).

Carolina Fonseca Team Performance for Tech Startups

June 28th, 2016

Agree with all the previous comments. Referrals are key.

To filter the resumes, here's somethings you can look for:

- Past experience: are there any experiences he/she had that had similar rresponsibilities to what you're looking for?

- Cover/Motivational letter: if you have this, it might be your great asset in filtering through. Look at the motivations and the language they use and see if that reflects the person you're looking for (personality wise, language wise, etc). You might want to read more on how language reflects personality/motivations, etc.

- Interesting/extracurricular experiences: might reflect initiative, proactivity, solution oriented or any other skill/competence you're looking for

Obviously, the most important is to know what you're looking for when it comes to experience, hard skills and soft skills.

Then you can think about how this person would write/talk (for cover/motivational letter) and what kind of background you're looking for.

Again, based on resumes alone, it is a bit of gambling. You can have a great person writing a terrible resume or the other way around. 

I hope these pointers help you.

Judith Hurwitz President & CEO Hurwitz & Associates

June 28th, 2016

It is not easy to find a CEO. You need to understand what they have done in the past -- how they have succeeded and failed. Failure is as important as successes. How did they deal with failure and how did they recover? What do people who worked with this person think? Is the person a team player or is it all about him/her? You have to get to know the candidates. You have to see what people who know the candidates think: both positive and negative. You might want to start with a consulting arrangement to see how you work together. You won't get a real understanding of a leader in the abstract.

Mubeena Mohammed Author and CEO

June 28th, 2016

Hi Eli, great question. Hiring is one of the most important people-related activities leaders make because they are essentially investing in a future asset of their business. In my capacity as an Organisational Psychologist and Management Consultant, I would advise leaders not to look at the resumes at all as a first response (I know how freaky that sounds but hear me out).

What organisations need to do is reflect their culture to the outside world of talent that might be their CEO one day. In other words, build a selection methodology that captures whether the candidate will be a culture fit FIRST before any technical or skill fit. Do you have a questionnaire designed where candidates answer certain value-based company culture-specific questions? I would highly recommend building such a tool.

Once you have your most culturally fit candidates, then you may go on to the next round to assess their technical prowess and CEO-like capabilities after. Most organisations make the mistake of seeking the most technically sound person for the job with the relevant experience only. This is short-term thinking.

So before looking at resumes, filter them out by custom-built culture and value test first. Hope that helped.

Gloria Luna VP Marketing - Brand builder and creative problem solver

June 28th, 2016

Assuming your basic needs are met (industry experience, specific skill set, etc), the most important criteria should be whether their strengths and contributions are complimentary to yours.  I find that to be the best foundation for building a successful founder/CEO relationship.

Laurie Fosner Executive Assistant, Dolby Labs

June 28th, 2016

Hi Eli, I will give you the perspective of a start-up administrator whose watched several promising technologies suffer from ineffective CEOs. - First, they have to be able to think in terms of the big picture as well as understand details. Without that, you end up with a visionary who can't make things happen, or a task master who can't see the forest for the trees. Sure, they have people under them for handling details, but in order to know if those people are effective, the CEO must also have this skill. - They have to be passionate about the product/technology, but not so invested in it that they refuse to acknowledge when they need to accept change. For example, when an inventor tries to be CEO, he/she can be so personally involved in making it work the way they want it to, that when problems with the technology arise, they either refuse to acknowledge them or they do it too late. They must be open to new information and adept at adjusting to surprises. - Your CEO needs to have great presentation skills for fund raising and needs to know how to translate whatever technology or product the company is based on into the language of an investor. He also needs to understand how financing works, the best places to get it, and what kinds of returns you can realistically expect. He can rely on a top-notch CFO for some of it, but he has to be able to speak that language himself as well, because he will likely be the one to put on the 'dog and pony show' when it's time to raise money. - The CEO should know well the risks of the industry he/she is in and how to mitigate those risks. What if supplies dry up? What if a competitor gets an edge? What if a manufacturer produces a sub-par product? - To find them, study who's who in the industry and who has been successful. Reach out to those people for recommendations. Do meticulous research on anybody who is recommended, don't simply take someone's word for anything--back it up with solid research. And make sure you are clear about the salary, benefits, etc. up front and that it is all in writing. Check their credit -- make sure they aren't basing their acceptance on the idea that it will all work out great and they'll get some kind of guaranteed pay-off. If they can't live on the salary you are offering, don't hire them. - Ask open-ended questions and listen to them talk about their personal experiences as a CEO. Ask what they like about it and what challenges them. If they are able to admit mistakes and tell stories of how they overcame challenges, that's a good start. Good Luck! Laurie

Rita MA CEO Avanti Leadership Group - Executive Coach

June 28th, 2016


First I hear two things: you want someone who is 'CEO type' and someone who is committed to stay through the early stages of your business.
I am afraid there is no one CEO "type". I suggest you break down the criteria and get very specific about the skills, experience and attributes you are looking for and interview for those traits.
If you haven't yet read THE LEADERSHIP PIPELINE by Ram Charan, now is the time! 
A leader who is going to be committed to staying with you through the early stages needs to have been a leader "up against it" before....seen the ups and downs of businesses and understands that a) they WANT to ride that wave, b) they have been through this before and have LEARNED. Someone committed to continuous learning, who can listen as well as direct, someone with integrity and candor who is choosing this opportunity because they know what they are getting into and thrive in this kind of challenge.
I hope that helps a little!

Adam Pressman I've helped make a number of people millionaires. I'd like to do it a few more times.

June 29th, 2016

Great replies from all posters.  The one thing I see missing is "CEO type" for what?   Welders weld, developers code and CEO's execute.  The two most important things my clients have found (I sell "CEOness", yes it can, and must be learned) is: one, that you have to know what you want the CEO to bring to reality. Second is that no CEO is going to be the best choice for all phases of a company's lifecycle.  The CEO that gets the company going is not necessarily the best choice to sustain that company.   Also note that CEO is a role, not a person.  It's possible for one person to grow and change to match the changing CEO role, but it's rare.   A great treatment of the challenges of being a CEO is Ben Horowitz' The Hard Thing about Hard Things.   

Rob G

June 29th, 2016

Eli, are you sure that it is truly a CEO that you need?  why are you hiring a CEO at this stage?  What are your expectations of this person? Just want to be sure that it is really a CEO that you need. Also, it sounds like yours is a startup so presumably you are filtering for startup experience, correct?