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How to Hire for a CTO

June 28, 2018

Are you considering hiring a CTO? If you are, you should first consider why hiring a CTO is necessary. Is it to help develop new software? Is the company lacking strategic planning to scale and grow from a technology perspective? Have there been recurring challenges with security risks? Each of these scenarios may require a similar skill set of a CTO, but the technology is less important than the cultural fit.

There are several characteristics a superior CTO should have that go beyond technical expertise. Finding the right solution involves hiring someone who can adapt to your company’s specific goals. Essentially, a company needs a trusted technology advisor who’s strategic and can work with the rest of the executive team to increase revenue and efficiencies and decrease expenses.

The role also requires a solid company fit. This includes a positive personality, good communication skills, and a high emotional quotient. The solution is finding a person that will help with your technology needs, but also serve as a strong leader for your company. To hire for a CTO, here a few guidelines to follow.

Establish Value and Culture Fit

Experience and expertise are important characteristics for any C-level position. However, good technical skill matters less at this level than strong leadership abilities. Excellent communication and well-rounded knowledge of technology are critical to the role, but the right candidate will understand your business’s goals and want to advocate for them. They lead and inspire a team. They will consistently bring new ideas to the table with solid plans to back them up.

Gauge Experience

The second thing to consider when hiring for a CTO is what’s needed by the company. Do they need to build out a new software platform? Are they looking to move to the cloud? Does the CTO have the flexibility to guide the team to what’s needed for the company? Have they worked with software developers before?

While having similar industry experience is important, a successful CTO must also be an innovator. The person should be comfortable going beyond the status quo. The technology need will guide which experience is most necessary for the role.

Considering the “Strategic Buckets”

There are four strategic areas a CTO is responsible for: increasing revenue, decreasing expenses, improving efficiencies, and meeting compliance measurements.

  1. Increasing Revenue – What is the company trying to do or hoping to do to make more money? How can the CTO augment the company’s current offering or develop a new product or idea that will be linked to this goal?
  2. Decreasing Expenses – Companies who wish to hire a CTO may feel like technology is a black hole. What they don’t understand can end up costing hundreds of thousands of dollars or more a year. There must be a well thought-out plan for any technology changes and additions a company chooses.
  3. Improving Efficiencies – Adding team members doesn’t necessarily mean greater efficiency. Perhaps a company has 30 people on their development or technology staff, but could become more effective if they had an automation system in place. Part of the CTO’s job is to create these efficiencies with the right technology and the right team.
  4. Compliance – Whether it’s voluntary or involuntary, companies go out of their way to get compliance certifications. A CTO assesses how to mitigate risks and, at the same time, create opportunities.

Questions to Ask a CTO Candidate

A C-level candidate should already have the credentials and experience to apply for a CTO position. The way to find the right company fit is to ask straightforward questions such as:

  • Can you provide a few examples of how you would increase revenue (decrease expenses and/or improve efficiency)?
  • If I were to speak to your prior clients, managers, and colleagues what would they have to say both from a strength and room-for-growth perspective?
  • Are you able to provide a sample 90-day technology plan?


These kind of questions will help reveal a person’s communication style. It will provide a better understanding of who you are working with. Is he or she forward thinking or do they provide the bare minimum? Is he or she looked upon favorably by past colleagues or are their peer reviews lacking?

Technology Advisors Can Help Guide Strategic Hiring

The search for a CTO doesn’t mean your company can be put on hold while recruiting for the right candidate. By bringing in a technology advisor, you receive a focused, strategic approach to engaging the right person for the job. You benefit from their experience and knowledge of the technology space and working with CTOs. A technology advisor doesn’t aim to simply “fill a need,” but rather identify opportunities and produce the right resources to advance your company.

Use Retained Search

Retained search for technology leaders is advantageous for several reasons. It reduces risk during the hiring process, ensures a quality candidate selection, and delivers the kind of focus from the recruitment team needed to hire for a CTO. Using retained search versus contingency search produces more optimal results for both the client and candidate.

Consider a Part-Time CTO

Map out your company goals and find where pieces are missing or lacking from a technology standpoint. There are likely several areas to concentrate on, which means a strategic plan is needed to meet milestones in a timely way. A part-time CTO can provide the technology leadership you need, even as you look for a permanent solution.

A part-time CTO creates a technology roadmap for the team to follow. This position is also responsible for resource planning and staffing management for developers and other important technology positions. By hiring someone with the right CTO skills, whether part-time or full-time, it allows your team and business to avoid pauses in productivity or progress.

Each business has varying needs, which means this leadership position is not a one-size-fits-all solution. The investment of hiring a CTO that is the right fit for your company takes time and patience. The effort you put into researching the right candidate will help to prevent costly turnover and decline in team efficiencies. Let us help you put the right people in place to allow your business to thrive.

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