Searching for a CEO is no small task. But with the right job description, you can make the hunt for a new CEO a bit easier.

More than a wish list, a CEO job description should take into consideration the company's needs as well as the prospective CEO's needs, according to Colleen Aylward, founder and president of high-tech recruiting-and-placement firm Devon James Associates Inc., in Seattle. Before crafting a second CEO job description, she suggests taking a look at the position from the candidate's point of view. "Ask yourself what a candidate might have faced in previous positions, and jot them down," she says. For instance, CEO candidates might have faced one, if not all, of the following challenges in their previous positions:

  • Short time to market with a product or service
  • Questionable viability of a product or service offering
  • Stiff competition and few differentiating advantages
  • Customer-service infrastructure problems
  • Branding issues
  • Less-than-desirable product quality
  • Unreasonable stock-price expectations from stockholders
  • Poor funding climate
  • Problems with a board of directors
  • Layoffs
  • Employee-morale problems
  • Lack of management skills in the executive team

A new CEO might be up for some challenges, but she doesn't want to jump from the frying pan into the fire. Be ready to include in the job description statements that will allay candidates' fears, Aylward suggests. That involves an approach comparable to creating an executive summary for a business plan, which sets the stage for the candidate and offers up the challenges of the job in a positive light.

Looking at the job description from the candidate's point of view is one step to creating an effective job description. Also helpful is seeing examples. Here Aylward offers her picks for poorly written and well-written job descriptions to help you craft one that will bring in the best candidates. (To read helpful questions to consider when creating a CEO job description, click here.)

What Doesn't Work

Aylward created this job description from a number of, what she believes are, poorly written descriptions, which she found on the Internet. The first point she makes: "Very few high-level executives will look on the Web for a job that pays more than $200K." More of this description's shortcomings follow the example.

Immediate opening for a very dynamic and energetic executive for a very exciting IT consulting organization with a new and innovative business model. The successful candidate will have 10-plus years in successful IT executive management, at least 2 years as president or CEO, successful experience with full P/L responsibilities within the IT consulting industry, and strong presentation skills. Additional qualifications:
  • Strong leadership skills
  • Access to E-mail and a computer
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Successful start-up experience
  • Knowledge of daily operations
  • Familiarity with the parliamentary rules of order
  • Strong project-management skills
  • Sales-and-marketing management experience
  • Offshore outsourcing experience
  • Fiscal control and fund-raising experience.

Excellent pay and equity position for an entrepreneurial chief executive who will report to the founder and chairman.
Applicants must submit a ré sumé to:

Besides the mistake in posting a description for this high-level position on the Internet, the description does not define the position's responsibilities, Aylward notes. The description explains what the business wants, but candidates have no idea what they might actually encounter in the role. Besides being vague, it also fails to consider that a job description is a perfect opportunity to market a company. "It can function as a frontline marketing statement that conveys the corporate culture and says leagues about the status of the employee as an asset of your company," Aylward says.


Additionally, second CEOs are interested in the value of the company or product as it relates to some logical increased revenue stream or mergers-and-acquisitions value proposition going forward, she adds. The description offers no sense of the corporate mission and, in fact, confuses prospective candidates with criteria like "access to E-mail and a computer" and "familiarity with the parliamentary rules of order" -- which at once make the organization sound like a garage operation (or worse, a company with no funding at all) while requiring the prospective CEO to be savvy in formal, high-level corporate meetings.

The bottom line: this description isn't fit for a true CEO candidate. "This looks like a disconnected wish list," Aylward says. It lists what the business wants in a CEO but leaves the reader wondering about the company's ability to communicate, agree on a vision, and organize thoughts effectively, she adds.