Top executives held about 2.3 million jobs in 2012. About 86 percent of those jobs were held by general and operations managers and 14 percent were held by chief executives.
Top executives work in nearly every industry. They work for both large and small businesses, ranging from one-person companies to firms with thousands of employees.
Top executives of large organizations typically have large offices and numerous support staff. However, the work of top executives is often stressful because they are under intense pressure to succeed. Executives in charge of poorly performing organizations or departments may find their jobs in jeopardy.
Top executives frequently travel to attend meetings and conferences or to visit their company’s local, regional, national, and international offices. In large organizations, executives may occasionally transfer jobs, moving between local offices or subsidiaries.
Top executives often work long hours, including evenings and weekends. In 2012, about half worked more than 40 hours per week.
Although education and training requirements vary widely by position and industry, many top executives have at least a bachelor’s degree and a considerable amount of work experience.
Many top executives have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in business administration or in an area related to their field of work. Top executives in the public sector often have a degree in business administration, public administration, law, or the liberal arts. Top executives of large corporations often have a master of business administration (MBA). College presidents and school superintendents typically have a doctoral degree in the field in which they originally taught or in education administration.
Work Experience in a Related Occupation
Many top executives advance within their own firm, moving up from lower level managerial or supervisory positions. However, other companies may prefer to hire qualified candidates from outside their organization. Top executives that are promoted from lower level positions may be able to substitute experience for education to move up in the company. For example, in industries such as retail trade or transportation, workers without a college degree may work their way up to higher levels within the company to become executives or general managers.
Chief executives typically need extensive managerial experience. Executives are also expected to have experience in the organization’s area of specialty. Most general and operations managers hired from outside an organization need lower level supervisory or management experience in a related field.
Some general managers advance to higher level managerial or executive positions. Company training programs, executive development programs, and certification can often benefit managers or executives hoping to advance. Chief executive officers often become a member of the board of directors.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Top executives may complete a certification program through the Institute of Certified Professional Managers to earn the Certified Manager (CM) credential. To become a CM, candidates must meet education and experience requirements and pass three exams.
Although not mandatory, certification can show management competency and potential leadership skills. Certification can also help those seeking advancement or can give jobseekers a competitive edge.
Top executives typically have an interest in the Persuading interest area, according to the Holland Code framework. The Persuading interest area indicates a focus on influencing, motivating, and selling to other people.
If you are not sure whether you have a Persuading interest which might fit with a career as a top executive, you can take a career test to measure your interests.
Top executives should also possess the following specific qualities:
Communication skills. Top executives must be able to communicate clearly and persuasively. They must effectively discuss issues and negotiate with others, direct subordinates, and explain their policies and decisions to those within and outside the organization.
Decision-making skills. Top executives need decision-making skills when setting policies and managing an organization. They must assess different options and choose the best course of action, often daily.
Leadership skills. Top executives must be able to lead an organization successfully by coordinating policies, people, and resources.
Management skills. Top executives must organize and direct the operations of an organization. For example, they must manage business plans, employees, and budgets.
Problem-solving skills. Top executives need problem-solving skills after identifying issues within an organization. They must be able to recognize shortcomings and effectively carry out solutions.
Time-management skills. Top executives must be able to do many tasks at the same time, typically under their own direction, to ensure that their work gets done and that they meet their goals.
The median annual wage for chief executives was $168,140 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $76,220, and the top 10 percent earned more than $187,200.
The median annual wage for general and operations managers was $95,440 in May 2012. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $46,890, and the top 10 percent earned more than $187,200.
Because the responsibilities of general and operations managers vary significantly among industries, earnings also tend to vary considerably.
Top executives are among the highest paid workers in the United States. However, salary levels vary substantially, depending on executives’ responsibilities and lengths of service and the types, sizes, and locations of the firms, organizations, or government agencies for which they work. For example, a top manager in a large corporation can earn significantly more than the mayor of a small town.
In addition to salaries, total compensation for corporate executives often includes stock options and other performance bonuses. Workers also may enjoy benefits, such as access to expense allowances, use of company-owned aircraft and cars, club memberships, and company-paid insurance premiums. Nonprofit and government executives usually receive fewer benefits.
Top executives often work many hours, including evenings and weekends. However, some have the ability to set their own schedules. In 2012, about half worked more than 40 hours per week.
Employment of top executives is projected to grow 11 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Employment growth will vary widely by industry and is largely dependent on the rate of industry growth.
Generally, employment growth will be driven by the formation of new organizations and expansion of existing ones, which will require more managers and executives to direct these operations.
In addition, top executives are essential for running companies and organizations and their work is central to the success of a company.
Top executives are expected to face very strong competition for jobs. The high pay and prestige associated with these positions attract many qualified applicants.
For chief executives, those with an advanced degree and extensive managerial experience will have the best job prospects.
For general and operations managers, education requirements vary by industry, but candidates who can demonstrate strong leadership abilities and experience getting positive results will have better job opportunities.
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