In Closing: The Winding Path to CEO

October 13, 2016


A young person aiming to someday become a CEO, partner, vice president or other C-suite executive has traditionally needed hard work, brains, leadership skills and luck. But new research suggests that experience in multiple functional areas within a business — and outside your comfort zone — is another prerequisite for reaching the top.

As The New York Times reported on Sept. 11, a LinkedIn study of 459,000 onetime management consultants found that, for improving your chances of becoming a senior executive, experience in one additional functional area was equivalent to three extra years of experience in just one area. Additionally, working in four different functions had nearly the same impact as earning an MBA from a top-five program.

Burning Glass, a firm that analyzes job listings to detect labor-market trends, has found surging demand for “hybrid jobs” that incorporate expertise in, for example, both technology and finance. Research shows that MBA holders with a variety of experiences receive more offers and higher bonuses from investment banks than those with narrower experience.

Big companies have long groomed promising young executives for the top seat by rotating them through different divisions, but today, few people stay with a single large employer for decades. Within big companies, one way to collect cross-functional experience is to pursue opportunities that are adjacent to, yet different from, your existing expertise. Switching industries is considered detrimental to landing a top job, while changing companies within one industry neither helps nor hurts aspiring CEOs. — Greg Beaubien


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