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Young C-Suite Recruitment: What It Takes to Land a C-Suite Position Early in Your Career

Young C-Suite Recruitment: What It Takes to Land a C-Suite Position Early in Your Career

April 2024

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The average age of a top executive is increasing. According to a recent study by the Wall Street Journal, the average age of a C-suite member is 57—six years above where it stood in 1980.

There are obvious factors behind the shift. The average life expectancy, for example, is much higher than it once was. In that sense, a 57-year-old leader has much more life left to live than the average professional 40 years ago.  

Still, the trend remains, and it is making it harder for younger, less experienced leaders to crack into the upper echelons of their companies. 

Here are a few thoughts on what it takes to reach the C-suite early, what ambitious young executives can do to help them climb the corporate ladder quickly, and what those hiring them should keep in mind as they consider younger candidates for their company leadership teams. 

What Makes It Possible to Reach the C-Suite Early?

One of the biggest issues with reaching the C-suite is that there’s limited room at the top of an organizational pyramid. Even directors and VPs struggle to make that final step into the C-suite, and when a spot opens up, only one person can move up before the opportunity closes down again—sometimes for years at a time. 

So, what does it take for young leaders to get to the top? We see it happen at times. There are young leaders all over the place. I think there are a few factors that make these exceptions to the rule happen. 

For instance, at times, younger C-suite hires are part of the environment of a particular industry. I specialize in Private Equity (PE), for instance, and in that world, PE portfolio companies often target youthful C-suite hires.  

Sometimes, this happens because they’re looking for creative, energetic up-and-comers. At other times, it has to do with PE having a smaller C-suite budget. When you can’t pay as much, you bargain shop, and bringing in a well-established, affordable young VP or director can be a great way to fill a skill gap without compromising significantly.  

Sometimes, there are unique circumstances that open up the possibility of younger hires, too. The severe shortage in labor in areas like the trades or healthcare, for example, makes it easier for younger workers to become prime candidates for executive advancement. 

There’s also the possibility of C-suite expansion. From CTOs to CSCOs, the C-suite has exploded in recent years, and those new positions provide more opportunities. But none of this makes entering the C-suite easy. You still need to invest in the process. 

Tips for Advancing in the C-Suite Ahead of Schedule 

Here are a few things that can help accelerate the journey to the top position at your company or a comparable position in your field or industry. 

1. Run Your Teams Well

C-suite positions require the ability to delegate at an exceptional level. You can’t just pass off responsibilities. You need to do so in a way that helps your team (and, by extension, your department and company) exceed expectations. VPs and directors looking to make a leap ahead of schedule should make sure they’re learning this skill and demonstrating it on a regular basis. 

2. Fill Skill Gaps and Develop Core Competencies 

The C-suite requires a unique set of skills. Some of these are specific talents that help with a certain position, such as a CHRO having a high performer’s mindset. Others are core competencies for any executive, such as adaptability, agility, or innovation. It’s a good idea to work on developing these on an ongoing basis. 

3. Find a Mentor or a Coach (or Both)

You’re never too old to learn. If you want to advance in a company, consider hiring an executive coach. (You might even be able to expense the activity.) Mentors are also helpful in developing your skills—and you might even be able to be mentored by an individual in a C-suite position you could fill when they vacate it. 

4. Develop Your Personal Brand

Finally, remember to make yourself stand out whenever possible. An average leader won’t make a splash. Even if you do your job to a tee, if you don’t stand out in that process, it’s hard to catch anyone’s eye when the time comes to fill a unique and rare C-suite vacancy. Develop your personal brand so that, when the time comes to throw your hat in the ring, everyone knows who you are. 

Hiring Youth in the C-Suite

Younger hires may not be common these days, but they can be impactful. The takeaway here for those doing the hiring (including for executive search consultants like myself) is that you need to be strategic and creative when considering both placing and hiring younger talent for a leadership team.  

You need to be strategic and creative when considering both placing and hiring younger talent for a leadership team.

As you vet candidates for an executive position, consider the value and risks of bringing a director or VP up into a new position. Yes, they may lack the age and experience of a veteran, but they are still polished, highly experienced individuals. They will also likely be hungrier, more budget-friendly options. 

If you’re filling a spot in your C-suite and think a younger candidate may be a good fit, reach out. Our team at Stanton Chase can help you evaluate your options and gauge the pros and cons that come with elevating promising young talent to the top of your organizational structure. 

About the Author

Jill Leibowitz is a Director at Stanton Chase Los Angeles. She is currently based in Chicago, Illinois. With over 20 years of experience in media, entertainment, sports, and advertising, Jill brings a wealth of knowledge to her role. Her most recent positions include VP of Content for Publicis Media and Director of Production and Content Strategy for One10 Marketing, a renowned travel and events company.   

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