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How to Become a COO

CEO and COO meeting
Credit: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

While the CEO is typically the face of an organization, the COO (chief operating officer) is second in command. Sometimes called vice president of operations, COOs are senior executives who manage the day-to-day operations of an organization.  

"A COO is the driving force behind a successful brand," said Laurie Windler, vice president operations at Camp Bow Wow. "While protecting the brand, they are always on the lookout for opportunities to systemize and simplify the brand."

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Every COO has different day-to-day responsibilities because each organization and industry is different. George Whittier, chief operating officer at Morey, describes the chief operating officer as the CEO's right-hand person.

"We lead and oversee the company's day-to-day operations to ensure continuous process improvement," added Whittier.

Amy Sanchez, certified career coach at Swim Against the Current, said COOs work closely with CEOs to help make important company decisions. They also work with other C-suite executives, including the CFO and CIO, to make sure all departments are working to support the company's strategy.

COOs typically have a combination of solid education and work experience. Windler said if individuals want to become a COO, they should have a degree in business or have a proven track record of successful team building.

"I believe a COO needs to have walked the talk," Windler said. "They need to understand every role on their team and have either lived it or take the time to understand it. This gives them the ability to identify gaps and understand needs."  

Whittier also agrees it's important to have a solid foundation in business, but there isn't a set degree needed. However, he noted that having a Master of Business Administration (MBA) is a "huge plus from a standpoint of building business and financial acumen." [Read related article: Getting an MBA Without a Bachelor's Degree]

"A good rule of thumb for those hoping to become a COO is to have a deep understanding of business, people management and the industry as a whole," Whittier added. 

Like all C-suite executives, COOs should be great communicators and leaders.

"Operations can be very black and white, but you need to understand the gray to be effective," Windler added.  

"They must be flexible and amendable to the CEO," said Sanchez. "They must be good decision-makers and possess good leadership skills."

Along with a solid set of soft skills, COOs should also understand project management and how to build a team, said Windler.

"You need to be a strategic thinker with a solid business and financial acumen," said Whittier. "The ability to negotiate is also helpful. Since the COO has a hand in every department, a baseline understanding of what each team does is also important."

While you're building your career, you should always be expanding your network. Most successful business professionals got where they are because of hard work and their connections.

"Many people spend so much time inside their company they forget to focus on building their network," Sanchez said. "If you really want to become a COO, the best strategy is to [do] well at your company, but also, build your external network with individuals who are climbing the ranks at other companies, executive coaches and recruiters."

Saige Driver

Saige received her Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Telecommunications from Ball State University. She is the social media strategist for Business.com and Business News Daily. She also writes reviews and articles about social media. She loves reading and her beagle mix, Millie. Reach her by email, or follow her on Twitter.