The Hot New Job: How to Become a Chief People Officer

Written by
Rebecca Smith

Jan 15, 2019

Jan 15, 2019 • by Rebecca Smith

Are you a people person? If so, you might be able to turn one of your best qualities into a pretty lucrative career. 

As the hiring market changes, more companies are realizing that they have to invest in their people if they want to continue growing and staying competitive in the market. It's not enough anymore to promise a high salary and call it a day -- companies need to understand how to relate to and support their employees. 

Enter the Chief People Officer. This person is responsible for employee engagement and retention, creating a successful company culture, and working with the CEO as a critical member of the C-Suite. 

Read on to learn more about what this job is and how you can make yourself into the best possible candidate. 

What Does a Chief People Officer Do?

At first glance, this title might seem like something lighthearted and fun, like a title that someone assigned themselves for being the life of the party. But it's actually an integral part of an executive team, and search companies are scrambling to find qualified candidates. 

A CPO is generally responsible for making sure that the company offers an absolutely incredible employee experience. Culture is one of the biggest factors when it comes to recruiting top-notch talent, so this is an important role. 

Depending on the situation, they may also help guide the company through periods of rapid growth, revamp the hiring and onboarding process, or build opportunities for professional development. 

How Did This Get Started? 

After all, we already had Human Resources -- so why this shift to a Chief People Officer? 

First, it's all in the name. There's a push to think of employees more as people, not as resources that the company can use. Employees want to be seen as the human beings that they are, not as a cog in a machine. 

If there aren't strong enough incentives to stay at a company where employees are treated more like machines than people, businesses will lose talent to competitors who have created stronger cultures. 

Business leaders were also looking for a more proactive and strategic approach to HR, instead of constantly reacting to situations. 

Finally, you can thank young professionals for changing company culture. Millennials especially demand jobs where they can grow in their roles. 

Key Qualities to Have

If this is something that you want to pursue, here are the key qualities to have if you want to successfully find a job as a CPO. Working on these will help make you into a stronger candidate. 

Emotional Intelligence

If you're going to hold a job with "people" in the title, emotional intelligence is a must-have. Surprisingly, this isn't as common as you'd think. 

Can you handle difficult situations with empathy? Do you know how to take the time to get to know someone and make them feel valued? 

Being comfortable in situations like these is essential to the CPO job. 

Storytelling Ability

Not only do you need to be able to relate to people, but you also need to able to tell a story about your workplace. Think of it as communicating with both potential hires and current employees why the company is the best place for them to be. 

As someone who drives the company culture, it's up to you to craft the narrative that the rest of the organization will follow. 

Strong Leadership Skills

With that in mind, CPOs must also have strong leadership skills. Note that there's a difference between management and leadership. 

You can be a good manager by just delegating tasks to other people and making sure they're completed, but that doesn't necessarily make you a good leader. A leader inspires other people to work towards a common goal. 

If you can do that, you're already a step ahead of the competition. 

Business Sense

Of course, a Chief People Officer is going to be spending a lot of time in the C-Suite. A CEO is going to be looking for someone who is not only well-versed in people, but also in business

In this case, it would serve you well to have at least some knowledge of all areas of business. Breadth is the goal here, not depth. You should be able to speak with some fluency about business operations, finances, and other important aspects of the industry. 


Finally, a professional who has all of the above qualities without any self-knowledge will be at a disadvantage. One of the most important competencies to have is authenticity. 

People can tell when you are fake or insincere and it will affect their trust in you. Having a strong sense of self and staying true to your values will not only help you be a happier person, but also a better leader. 

Become a Chief People Officer

So how does one with all of these qualities become a CPO? How do you make yourself into the most attractive candidate possible? 

Here are a few tips. 

Work Outside of HR

Business leaders are increasingly turning to departments other than HR to find their CPOs. These are the people who tend to have a wider knowledge of business, which is what they're looking for. 

If your entire career has been in HR, consider making a lateral move to a department where you have transferable skills. 

Know Your Worth

There's a high demand for Chief People Officers and not as many qualified candidates, which makes this a candidate's market. You have the advantage here already. 

Know your worth as someone who can bring incredibly valuable skills and experience to the table. 

Work Hard

Finally, there's no substitute for hard work. Say yes to additional opportunities that are presented to you, read more about motivational strategies, and make an effort to learn things that aren't directly related to your job description. You might just see it pay off down the road. 

Stay Ahead of the Curve

The Chief People Officer role is just one of the many new ideas that are changing the way we do business today. Now more than ever, it's important for professionals to stay informed. 

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