How to Hire a CTO (Chief Technology Officer)

March 22, 2023

Building a successful in-house technical team is an amazing experience. Under the right leadership, technical teams have a greater chance of success at harnessing the benefits that come with the market’s latest technical innovations.  That kind of success also means enhancing the competitive positioning of your company.

Appointing a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) to guide your company through its digital transformation efforts and to assemble a highly functional team of technical professionals is the most important hire that companies are making in these modern times.  Recruiting and hiring the right CTO requires an investment of time and planning, especially as companies compete more furiously for talent during what the media is calling “the Great Resignation.”

Recruiting a CTO or any employee in this kind of labor market brings its share of challenges.  Since the pandemic, people are either choosing not to return to work despite there being job vacancies, or they're voluntarily leaving work in larger numbers.  Earlier this summer, there was a record number of 10 million jobs advertised in the U.S. and a record-high number of 4.4 million people, or 3% of the worker force, that quit their jobs.

Faced with a slew of resignations and early retirements, employers are grabbing tech talent wherever they can find it, and they’re doing so at a blistering pace.  As you begin looking for your CTO, understand that tech candidates have never been in such a position of power in terms of dictating hiring negotiations.

Finding and enticing the right candidate to lead your technology efforts can be terrifying, especially if technology isn’t your thing.

It doesn’t need to be.  We are going to walk you through the entire process of recruiting your next Chief Technology Officer, even if it’s your first.

Why are you hiring a CTO?

A chief technology officer is a pioneer of sorts – a professional with a unique blend of business acumen, technical “know-how” and the social skills to communicate with professionals at every level.  You are hiring a CTO to lead your company towards greater efficiencies and enhanced performance via the development and implementation of new technologies. Be mindful of the fact that this is someone that will need to reach deeply into every business function of your company if they are to succeed in their role.

We should add that there is a new dynamic to be aware of in this modern age of recruitment – companies embracing technology on a larger scale than at any other time in history.  As companies increasingly rely on technology for all their business functions, technology itself is becoming the foundation of any successful company.  CTOs of today are expected to become the CEOs of tomorrow.

That’s a dynamic to consider as you determine the roles and responsibilities of your new CTO.

Determining the role of your new CTO

A CTO will guide the integration of new technologies into every facet of your company with a consistent focus on strengthening your company and enhancing its competitive positioning, all through the successful implementation of new technologies.  But technology changes daily, and your CTO needs to stay current as technologies evolve.

Chief Technology Officers should be able to:

  • Collaborate closely with your CEO to establish a long-term, strategic roadmap for the success of your business through technology investments and adoption
  • Provide expertise in software, IT infrastructure management, networking, and project management
  • Attract new technical talent and build a high-performing team of technical professionals

CTOs are desired for their knowledge of technology as well as their ability to function as leaders – this requires interpersonal communication and rapport-building skills.  The best CTOs wear multiple hats and enjoy doing as much.

Building a skills matrix ahead of time for your screening process is the best approach to ensuring you recruit the right talent.  In considering the challenges that your CTO must solve you’ll quickly learn that you need someone who has more than a strong technical background.  There are also the “soft skills” that your new CTO needs to offer in their skills set:

Strategic Mindset – CTOs are “big picture” people capable of marrying the business strategy world with the technology world and able to advance both towards a better future.  A CTO can always articulate their vision of the future to you and be able to educate others on how emerging technology trends can support the business strategy of your company.

Time Management – Even the most successful among us think they can do this better.

Interpersonal Communication - CTOs must be able to work and communicate with technical and non-technical professionals alike.  Verbal communication, rapport-building, team leadership – these skills are crucial to your CTOs success.

Diplomacy & Tact – Technical professionals can indeed be “binary” thinkers.  Absolutes.  Black and white.  I’m right, you’re wrong.  But proving you can be receptive to the opinions of others and open to the fact that others may know more are qualities that nurture the strongest relationships.

Types of Chief Technology Officers

CTOs also come in different types, here are four of the most common:

Consumer liaison - Committed to accelerating the customer experience through user-facing technologies, believing that those technology investments will yield greater sales driving company growth, which is an affirmation of their performance.

Infrastructure manager - Keenly focused on the technical infrastructure at your company and wants to closely oversee data, network performance, etc.  Interested in maximizing investments in technical infrastructure and champions the use of tech services like cloud computing to improve IT system delivery.

Strategic planner - An advocate for technology being the core driver of a company’s business strategy.  Is very much a “visionary” capable of applying technical expertise to strategic growth efforts.

Innovator – Very capable of demonstrating how to use technology to develop new business models and ideas that can accelerate the growth of a company.

Chief Technology Officer Job Description

Crafting a detailed, formal job description for your company’s new CTO is not a task, it’s an endeavor and all leadership should have an opportunity to contribute to this process.  Avoid creating a list of daily, bulleted responsibilities or qualifications.  Instead, you can segregate the skills you come up with in your matrix into categories like “Technical Skills,” “Leadership,” “Interpersonal Communication,” and the like.

The end of the job description should include language that describes how the CTO role is expected to directly contribute to the business objectives of the company.

Recruitment Strategy for a CTO

Recruiting for a c-level or executive role is both an art and a science.  Your recruitment strategies should yield a pool of qualified candidates who demonstrate a potential to fit in with your company’s purpose and objectives, and part of your strategy should also be to promote your company to prospective CTOs.

If you’re wondering whether to promote from within or go to the market, many do both.  Cast a wide net but keep in mind that the best technical talent is always sought after not just by professional recruiters but also competing companies who aren’t shy to connect directly with prospects using their company’s LinkedIn or Facebook pages.

You want to promote your company as part of your recruitment efforts, so consider what your company has to offer that others don’t.  Examples are remote work environments, edgy benefits like health club memberships, in-house yoga classes, etc.  Articulate to candidates what being the CTO at your company will mean for them and make the role sound appealing.  Joining a growing company, being in command of exciting projects, and being able to take advantage of unique benefits like the ones mentioned earlier all serve to entice prospective CTO candidates.

Networking must be one of your core recruitment strategies to maximize the use of your connections.  By discussing (involving) other professionals at your company and demonstrating to them why hiring the right CTO will mean alleviating some of the pain of their current workloads, they’re likely to take to their social media outlets to spread the word.

The best recruitment results come when you go above and beyond the tired strategy of posting on Indeed, LinkedIn, and Glassdoor.  Recruitment for an executive role means leveraging your contacts, social media connections, and employee referrals to the max.  Think outside the box - include your current employees, even clients, and other connections your recruitment team may have in their social networks in your search for a CTO.  This is one of the executive recruiting formulas that has been used so successfully at companies like Apple and Yahoo.

The rising need for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in the workplace is profound at executive levels.  Companies are becoming privy to the fact that the more diversified and inclusive their workforce, the more successful their companies are becoming. Also, DEI is especially important among millennial workers; the largest generation of our workforce.  Statistics demonstrate that recruiting with an emphasis on diversity has yielded increases in productivity, employee engagement, and workflow innovation.

The Importance of Hiring Process Transparency

The first point of contact between you and your CTO candidates is likely to be online.  Candidates have a deep level of appreciation if you are proactive in terms of sharing information about your recruitment process with them, and not just on your company’s career page but also on the social media outlets that your company should be using (LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.).

C-level professionals are notoriously critical thinkers and they’re likely to show an interest in the dynamics of your company’s recruitment processes.  Be transparent and informative about your recruitment processes and make an effort to communicate with all your CTO candidates through every stage of the recruitment process.

These steps aren’t merely a courtesy on your part – there are real liabilities for companies who willfully neglect this bit of transparency.   Statistically, over 80% of the candidates who apply for an open position expect a response acknowledging their interest.  That’s a big number when you consider that 2/3 of that number will walk if they don’t hear back after applying.  Keep your lines of communication open and keep your prospective talent updated on progress.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that more than 50% of the GenZ candidates on the market won’t even apply if they think your recruitment methods are outdated.

Finding Hidden Talent

New research shows that more than 27 million people in the U.S. fall into a new category called “hidden workers.”  They are candidates that have the skills to succeed, but the challenge is that many of these workers are not easily accessible.  More than 85% of employers believe that qualified, high-skills candidates get inadvertently DQ’d from the hiring process because they may not be a precise match for very specific criteria defined in job descriptions.  Screening processes and hiring systems that are currently in place are excluding qualified professionals from consideration, and this is something to be aware of as you evaluate your pool of CTO candidates.

New methods to get over these hurdles include:

  • Evaluating outdated algorithms in our recruiting systems that may need to be updated to be more inclusive
  • Modernize screening to focus on long-term metrics and performance.  Focusing efforts on speed and cost to hire can often neglect important metrics

Research has demonstrated that successfully attracting professionals from this “hidden workers” category means a company is 35% less likely to face challenges meeting diversity goals.

Interviewing CTO Candidates

The difference between a great hire and a costly, time-consuming hire that ends up being a poor fit is the quality of your interviewing process.  How much higher the stakes are when your company is interviewing candidates for an executive or c-level position like a Chief Technology Officer?Interviewing a CTO or any C-level professional is very different than interviewing a professional for a lower-level technical position. The interviewing environment for the latter has a focus on specific tasks or responsibilities, whereas interviewing prospects for the leading technology role at your company means a deep and necessary exploration into not only their technical aptitude but gauging this person on their ability to think strategically, lead people, and trying to determine how well they will fit in as a leader in your present work culture.

First, be willing to accommodate remote interviewing or even offer the option to all candidates.  It will help you cast a wider net and remote interviewing is simply now an expectation in what is most decidedly a “job seekers” market.

When interviewing prospects, a successful CTO hire should be able to describe how they can be the embodiment of your company's technical strategy going forward and tell you how they can connect their technical abilities to your company’s mission.

The key areas outside the technical realm to explore during the interview are:

Senior Leadership Skills – Arguably the most critical skill.  Seek out examples and inquire how your candidate can apply their leadership skills to further your company’s mission

Strategic Thinking – The ability to recommend how developments in technology can contribute to the success or even be the driver of your company’s growth is an essential skill of the CTO

Emotional Intelligence – It will be incumbent on your CTO to achieve results through the performance of others.  A successful CTO can look adopt a company-wide vision and be able to build the competence and confidence of their people.  This is different than leadership.

Top Questions to Ask a CTO During an Interview

Certainly, interviewing a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) is a critical step in ensuring the right fit for your organization's technical leadership. Here are the top 10 questions to ask a CTO during an interview:

  • Can you describe your approach to aligning technology with business goals? This question assesses the candidate's ability to bridge the gap between technology and strategic objectives.
  • How do you stay updated on emerging technology trends and advancements? This reveals their commitment to ongoing learning and whether they are equipped to lead with cutting-edge knowledge.
  • Tell us about a complex technical challenge you've successfully overcome in your career. Their response showcases problem-solving skills and their ability to navigate intricate technical situations.
  • Can you share an instance where you've effectively managed a technology team to achieve significant results? This gauges their leadership and team management capabilities.
  • What strategies do you use to ensure cybersecurity and data privacy within the organization? Their answer should highlight their understanding of cybersecurity measures and data protection.
  • How do you prioritize technology initiatives when resources are limited? This demonstrates their ability to make strategic decisions and allocate resources effectively.
  • Describe a situation where you've driven innovation and implemented new technologies to improve operations. This showcases their aptitude for driving technological innovation and its practical application.
  • How do you foster collaboration between technology and other departments, like marketing or operations? This reveals their ability to communicate and collaborate across disciplines.
  • Can you give an example of a time you've managed a crisis or unexpected technical issue? Their response gauges their composure under pressure and problem-solving during critical moments.
  • What is your approach to mentoring and developing junior members of your technology team? This question assesses their commitment to fostering talent and ensuring the growth of their team.

Remember, tailoring these questions to your organization's specific needs and industry context can provide even deeper insights into a candidate's suitability for the CTO role.

Check the following article for a curated list of our best interview questions.

The CTO Compensation Package

The average salary for a Chief Technology Officer in the United States is $253,320 as of October 2021 and your company will want to offer something close to the market rate.  However, this is a labor force that’s willing to give back on their salary if it means working for a company that offers unique benefits, such as a hybrid work environment.  A recent study by Stanford revealed that 55 percent of a group of respondents indicated that they wanted a blend of time at the office and time at home.

It’s a post-pandemic world now, and companies still clinging to maxims like “we’ve always done it this way” risk losing out on good talent if they’re unwilling to take another look at the full array of benefits they offer as part of their compensation packages, especially to one of the most senior (and pivotal) roles at your company.

Extensive health and wellness benefits including health club memberships, dogs at the office, open bars, big-screen TVs, etc. – are all components of the modern-day compensation package.  The benefits portion of compensation packages is now more about building employee wellness and supporting what employees want in their work/life balancing acts.

Enhance Your CTO Search with a Specialized Headhunting Agency

When it comes to hiring a CTO, the complexity of the task can often be overwhelming. That's where the value of enlisting a specialized agency comes into play. At JB Hired, we're renowned as one of the leading recruitment agencies in the Tech industry. With an expansive database of tech talents in emerging markets and access to world-class professionals from renowned tech hubs like Silicon Valley, we've consistently partnered with major MNCs, innovative tech companies, and rapid-growth startups to elevate their human capital strategies.

Whether your organization is undergoing a digital transformation, you're a burgeoning tech enterprise, or you're facing the challenge of filling a pivotal role, our vast experience and proactive headhunting approach ensure that you'll secure the finest candidates available. Let us guide you through the process of finding your next top-tier hire.

In Conclusion

The selection of a CTO is a decision of paramount importance. The wrong fit can lead to substantial setbacks for both the individual and the company as a whole. At JB Hired, our unmatched expertise in precision CTO placements sets us apart. We recognize that this key leadership role requires more than just an assessment of historical achievements and technical prowess. A successful CTO embodies strategic foresight, an unwavering devotion to technology, and the ability to steer a company towards growth and profitability through pioneering solutions.

To ensure that your leadership team is poised for unequivocal success, don't hesitate to reach out to us via the form below for a complimentary consultation. Your journey toward securing a visionary CTO starts here.