Hiring a CTO The Right Way, According to an Executive Search Firm

Hiring a CTO for your business is a huge undertaking. There’s no exact science for when and how to hire a CTO since every business is different; however, there is knowledge you’ll need and best practices you can follow to help ensure success.

Here’s everything you need to know to hire the best CTO for your company.

Role of a CTO: What Does a CTO Do?

Understanding CTO roles and responsibilities is essential for hiring the best leader. 

Here are some notable responsibilities of a CTO:

  • Creating tech team culture
    • Helps with hiring decisions, promotions, and understanding churn
    • Sets an example of what it’s like to work in tech at this company (work-life balance, feedback, level of collaboration, etc.)
  • Building the process for technical development
    • Health of your product (secure, scalable, maintainable?)
    • Tracking development
  • Supervising IT budget
  • Determining how to use technology to maximize company’s growth and output
  • Staying updated on the latest trends and innovations in the tech sector
  • Planning product architecture
  • Working with product managers to build product roadmap
  • Introducing new technologies to the company as needed

Hiring a CTO means finding someone to lead the company’s technical needs and manage any technology-related problems. CTOs work closely with the rest of the C-suite and may report to the CEO or CIO.


What’s the difference between CIO and CTO? 

Chief Information Officers (CIOs) are usually responsible for internal operations. 

Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) tend to have an outward-facing view and work more operationally. They manage technologies that grow the business externally and service customers.

Large companies often have both, but smaller companies may pick one or the other to save costs. If your company’s current goals are more outward facing, then a CTO may be the better choice.

Do You Need to Hire a CTO?

Let’s look at the different types of CTOs to help determine whether hiring a CTO is right for you.

Consumer Focused

This type of CTO serves as a liaison between customers and your business. They’ll have an excellent understanding of your target market, customer sentiment, and will help deliver IT products to consumers.


An infrastructure CTO helps set the company’s technological roadmap and oversees the organization’s security, data, and maintenance. This is a more technical CTO role.

Strategic Planning

Hiring a CTO for strategic planning means finding someone who envisions how your company will use technology. They’ll also set technical strategies and determine how to use current or new technology to grow your business.

General Strategy

A strategist CTO contributes to corporate strategy by analyzing target markets and building business models. They’ll work closely with other senior management to utilize technology to further the company’s overall goals.

Consider these four main “types” of CTOs and their responsibilities. If your company is at the point where you need a dedicated expert for any or all of these functions, it’s time to hire a CTO. 

The CEO’s job is to grow the company as a whole, not focus acutely on technology, and there will be an inflection point where an expert is needed for technology alone. This is particularly true if the CEO lacks a technical background.

CTOs often serve a mixture of these four functions. When hiring a CTO, look for someone with proven experience in all four areas.

CTO Skills: What to Look Out For

The strengths and abilities of a CTO are vast, as you’d expect for a C-suite leader. These are the top skills to look out for when hiring a CTO.

Skill 1: Interest in Technology

It may seem obvious, but when hiring a CTO, find a candidate passionate about tech. You want someone who’s constantly educating themselves on the latest technological trends and takes a personal interest in them.

Skill 2: Strategic Thinking

Like other C-suite roles, the CTO will need to think about the bigger picture and how technology plays a role. They’ll guide people – developers, project managers, designers – in the right direction and must be able to anticipate next steps.

Skill 3: People Skills

Much of a CTO’s role will involve leading people and inspiring teams. When hiring a CTO, look for someone who leads with empathy, puts people first, and knows how to inspire even in tough times.

A track record of excellent leadership and people who will vouch for the candidate will demonstrate strong people skills.

More Skills to Consider

Here are some other skills to consider when hiring a CTO:

  • Setting and executing visions/plans (project management)
  • Communication
  • The ability to hire
  • Time management
  • Customer service
  • Mentorship 
  • Research abilities

How to Hire a CTO in 5 Steps

Hiring your CTO is a big task. Using the information we’ve already discussed, here are 5 steps you can take to find your perfect tech leader.

Step 1: Define the CTO Role

Get clear on exactly what a CTO at your company will do. What focus will your CTO have, or will there be a blend of responsibilities? Consider the four types of CTOs discussed above.

From there, define what your ideal candidate looks like. Consider:

  • Technical skills
  • Leadership style
  • Formal education
  • Project experience
  • Proven experience multitasking (you need someone who wants to “wear multiple hats”)
  • Someone who codes in multiple languages and understands technology from various angles (front end, back end, mobile)

Using all this, write a CTO job description.

Step 2: Prioritize Culture Fit and Motivation

Ultimately, even the most technically qualified candidate will have to be replaced if they’re unmotivated or don’t fit your company culture. Consider what degree of experience you’d be willing to sacrifice in exchange for a motivated, great fit.

An innovative, hard-working candidate who meshes well with company culture will serve your company best.

Step 3: Source CTO Candidates

When hiring a CTO, there are two types of candidates:

  • Active candidates, or those looking for a job
  • Passive candidates, or those who are qualified for the role but aren’t seeking a new job

Active CTO candidates can be found online:

  • Stack Overflow
  • Wellfound (previously AngelList)
  • General Assembly
  • Social media (posting about their skills or that they’re looking for a job)
  • Local or national tech events
  • Job boards (Indeed, LinkedIn) – be prepared to sort through a lot of unqualified candidates

To find passive candidates, tap into your network, ask around, and be open to a diverse set of qualified people. You can also ask other companies that recently hired a CTO to see if they passed on any candidates who might be a good fit for you.

Executive search firms, like Jennings Executive, have vast networks of candidates and are happy to help you hire a CTO. Contact Jennings Executive to get started.

Step 4: What’s In It For Them?

Especially with passive candidates, you’ll need to sell the position of CTO at your company, enough to convince them to leave their current position. And, for qualified candidates actively looking, the same is true since they’ll probably be fielding multiple offers.

What does a candidate gain from working at your company? This can include salary, equity, opportunities, autonomy, and more. 

Step 5: Work With an Executive Recruiter

Finding the perfect CTO is challenging, even with all the right pieces in place. 

It’s also a role you want to fill correctly the first time since, at the executive level, the cost of a bad hire is 213% of the position’s salary. For a CTO, a mis-hire will be staggeringly expensive and set your company back.

When hiring a CTO, consider working with an executive search firm like Jennings Executive. Our years of experience and deep network of candidates will ensure you find the perfect CTO as efficiently as possible. Learn more today!

Related: The US Tech Talent Shortage and 6 Strategies for Companies to Combat It

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