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What is a C-level executive?

C-level executives play a strategic role within an organization; they hold senior positions and impact company-wide decisions. C stands for “Chief”, so a C-level executive (also called a C-suite executive) is in charge of an entire department or business unit, such as Marketing, Finance and IT.


Common C-level executive job titles

While each company might have a unique grade system and job classification, certain job titles are used universally. Here’s a list of corporate titles you’ll likely find in a company along with a brief description of those C-suite roles and responsibilities:

CEO – Chief Executive Officer

This is the highest-ranking role in a company. CEOs oversee all business operations and decisions and are responsible for the success of the organization. All other C-suite executives report to the CEO. In some cases, the founder or co-founder of the company serves as the CEO.

COO – Chief Operating Officer

COOs are responsible for the proper execution of all business plans and strategies. In other words, they ensure that the company runs like clockwork. The COO is usually the second-in-command to the CEO.

CFO – Chief Financial Officer

A CFO manages all financial aspects of the company. They’re responsible for long-term budgeting and risk analyses, but also oversee the company’s financial reporting and overall financial status.

See CEO vs. CFO

CTO – Chief Technology Officer

CTOs are in charge of the tech stack that helps a company grow: they research and implement new systems, oversee security and set up infrastructure. Often, the term Chief Information Officer (CIO) is used for the same role. When a company has both job titles, the CTO is responsible for building new products and features while the CIO’s focus is internal, ensuring that IT systems operate effectively.

CMO – Chief Marketing Officer

This is the person who’s responsible for building and implementing marketing strategies. Depending on the company’s industry and goals, those strategies could be around digital marketing, advertising, product positioning, events and email campaigns.

CHRO – Chief Human Resources Officer

CHROs oversee anything that has to do with the people of an organization. They establish how the company hires, promotes, trains and evaluates employees. They also manage long-term HR strategies, such as succession planning and talent acquisition.

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What are some essential skills for C-suite executives?

Each executive-level employee should be an expert in their own field. For example, a CMO needs to have extensive experience in marketing, while a CFO needs in-depth knowledge of financial and accounting matters.

However, from the C-level executive definition we gave above, it’s clear that all employees who hold these roles have something in common: they all need to have a strategic mindset in order to drive business decisions. Here are some common skills employees should practice as they rise in senior positions:

What other employee levels exist?

In most companies, the board of directors and the founders are at the top of the corporate hierarchy followed by the C-level executives namely the CEO, COO, CFO, etc. But what’s below C-suite? That depends on each company’s organizational structure.

Usually Vice Presidents (VPs) and Senior Vice Presidents (SVPs) report to C-level executives. For example, the VP of Product Marketing and the VP of Digital Marketing will report to the CMO. D-level executives are the ones who report to VPs. In this case, D stands for director, e.g. a Director of Engineering or a Director of Sales belong in this grade. Some companies also use the term “B-level executive” to describe mid-level managers.

Related resources:

Frequently asked questions

What are C-level executives?

In an organization, there are a number of people who hold the title C-level. This usually refers to high-ranking executives in charge or cochairman over various departments within their company and can include CEOs, CFOs, CIOs, etc. The term 'C level' comes from the word “chief” starting the job title.

What are the 4 levels of management?

Even though there are now five levels of management, organizations still have four basic categories: top-level managers or executives; middle managers who work between layers two and three in an organization’s hierarchy; first-line supervisors and team leaders.

Is VP higher than C-level?

No. A Vice President or VP is considered to be part of V-level management and reports directly back up the chain.

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