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How to Hire a Chief AI Officer

How to Hire a CAIO When It’s Hard to Do

Hiring a Chief AI Officer has never been more challenging, That’s because AI is having a moment. Since the introduction of OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Google Gemini, and Microsoft Copilot, interest in the rapidly involving technology has taken off. 2024 marks a shift from giddy discussions to deployment. As Generative Artificial Intelligence (GAI) is poised to disrupt business, if not life as we know it, companies are now scrambling to adopt the technology in the workplace. As they do, one of the first challenges they will face will be hiring a Chief Artificial Intelligence Officer.

The Race to Hire Chief AI Officers

The race to hire Chief AI Officers began when the White House issued an Executive Order on the Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Development and Use of Artificial Intelligence. Then the White House Office of Management and Budget gave guidance to federal agencies to hire 100 AI professionals within months.

Already NASA has named its first Chief Artificial Intelligence Officer. The U.S. Department of Justice and the Pentagon have named CIAOs as well. The federal government’s AI hiring spree is expected to prompt the private sector to follow suit, driving up demand for Artificial Intelligence leaders,

The Demand for CAIOs Has Skyrocketed

Already, there has been a tripling of Chief Artificial Intelligence Officer job postings over the last five years, and it has grown 13% since December 2022 alone — according to LinkedIn’s Future of Work Report, Chief AI officer has become technology’s hottest new role. The demand is greater than it has ever been.

On Hiring a Chief AI Officer

Hire a Chief AI Officer. Image of a floating brain

Define the Chief AI Officer Role

The Chief AI Officer must have the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) to do the job. In most cases, unless a company has an internal candidate with significant expertise in Generative AI, the CAIO will need to be an external hire. Given the increase in demand for Chief AI Officers, companies are turning to retained executive search firms for help.

The primary responsibilities of the CAIO are shaping and driving an organization’s AI strategy. This includes the development and execution of plans that leverage AI to improve products, services, and operational efficiencies. Given the breadth of the role’s mandate, candidates should also be adept at leading cross-functional teams, innovation, and risk management of AI.

Boston Consulting Group advises that an “AI transformation requires technologists who can build the data infrastructure (data architects, solution architects, data engineers, and software engineers), employees who can manage data governance (data governance analysts and data stewards), and those who engage with the business (product owners and domain experts).

If You Build It, They Will Come

To hire a Chief AI Officer in this competitive environment, you must find a way to offer what AI technologists want from an employer. AI leaders want to work on cutting-edge projects, products, and technologies. They want to tackle compelling AI problems. They want to work at a company that knows how to think about data strategically and has an action multi-year plan. That plan should highlight clear advancement opportunities. Companies that fail to create the kind of workplace that attracts AI leaders will not win the race for AI talent, compromising their ability to remain competitive.

Seek Talent in Secondary Markets

If you’re not a hot technology company, avoid going head-to-head with hot technology companies in their quest for AI talent. As tempting as it may seem, you may want to avoid targeting the major tech hubs of San Francisco, Seattle, and New York. Set a strategy for secondary cities — particularly those near top engineering schools churning out AI talent. Look for candidates seeking a position in their home state or more flexible work arrangements. Also, in a pinch, you may want to consider remote employees overseas who are open to working for a foreign employer.

Start with the Magnet Hire

If possible, make your first hire an AI VIP, such as an academic who has published groundbreaking work in Generative AI. That person will serve as a magnet for AI talent seeking opportunities to learn and grow.

Move to Offer ASAP

Streamline your hiring process and be prepared to move to offer immediately. If you don’t, you risk losing the candidate to another offer. AI candidates appreciate employers who respect their time and don’t require endless rounds of interviews. Eliminating unnecessary delays will make you more successful.

Retain Your CAIO

Set a retention plan for your Chief AI Officer. Task an executive to oversee onboarding, equip the CAIO with the necessary tools and people to get their job done, and reward them for a job well done. Listen with empathy to establish a real human connection. That connection is what helps make the work that we do deeply satisfying.

Need a Chief AI Officer?

You also might want to check out our post How to Tell if Your Company Is Ready for AI. If you are ready to talk, let’s schedule a call to get acquainted. The Good Search has been recruiting technology luminaries creating the next great thing for the past two decades. We specialize in artificial intelligence because we are headhunters who recruit differently.

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Krista Bradford

Krista Bradford

Krista Bradford is CEO of the retained executive search firm The Good Search and of its research division Intellerati. A former award-winning television journalist and investigative reporter, Ms. Bradford now pursues truth, justice, and great talent in the executive suite.View Author posts

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