How to Hire a COO That Elevates Your Business (+6 Red Flags)

How to Hire a COO That Elevates Your Business (+6 Red Flags)

Discover how to hire a COO in 8 steps to drive your business forward. Learn key hiring strategies and red flags to avoid to ensure a perfect fit.

Feeling overwhelmed about finding the ideal Chief Operating Officer for your fast-growing company?

You're not alone. The stakes are high.

The right COO can unlock explosive growth and stability. However, hiring the wrong one can be a significant step back from achieving your goals.

Fortunately, you can follow our 8-step process to attract top talent, avoid costly mistakes, and land the perfect COO who is up to the task.

We’ll also show you how to save money by leveraging an alternative option — fractional recruiting.

Further Reading:

  • Explore how hiring a Fractional COO can save you money and time as compared to hiring full-time.
  • Learn about the wide scope of advantages of Fractional Recruiting. Find out if your company is the right fit for this approach.

Hiring a COO: What, Why, and When


The Chief Operating Officer (COO) stands at the forefront of a company's operational management, steering the day-to-day activities toward strategic goals. Let’s start with the basics of this role before we learn how to hire a COO.

What Is a COO?

The COO reports directly to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and is typically considered the second-in-command within the organization.

Their primary role is to ensure the smooth operation of a company while working alongside senior management, such as the Chief Financial Officer, operations manager, product manager, project manager, customer service manager, and any other relevant department head or team member.

Here are the crucial skills a good COO must possess to execute their role:

  • Operational Strategy: Mastery in planning and executing business strategies.
  • Process Optimization: Expertise in streamlining business operations for efficiency.
  • Financial Management: A keen understanding of budgeting, forecasting, and strategic planning of finances.
  • Leadership: The ability to inspire, manage, and lead teams towards success.
  • Communication: Strong skills in conveying ideas and fostering open dialogue.
  • Technical Proficiency: Familiarity with industry-specific technologies and systems.

Why Hire a COO?

​​As your company grows, the complexity of managing daily operations increases exponentially.

A COO addresses this challenge head-on, driving efficiency and enabling the CEO to pivot toward strategic growth and stakeholder relations.

Essentially, they're the glue holding operational processes together, ensuring your business can scale without hiccups.

When to Hire a COO

If your small business is scaling at an unprecedented rate and operational complexities begin to cloud your strategic vision, it's time to hire a COO.

Doing so will streamline your operations, solidify your organizational structure, and free up the CEO to focus on the broader vision.

If you’re at this juncture already, keep reading to learn how to fill the COO position.

Andrew Oyedeji profile image
Andrew Oyedeji
  1. Fractional COO
  2. Strategy
  3. Data Analytics
Operations & Strategy Leader // Former Silicon Valley Exec // GE Corporate Audit Staff Alum

How to Hire a COO in 8 Steps


Hiring a Chief Operating Officer (COO) is a significant step for any organization.

This guide outlines a structured approach to finding the perfect fit for your business.

I. Preparation

First, you must evaluate what your company needs in a COO. Below are a few questions you should answer:

1. Define What Success in This Role Looks Like

What are the specific results you need your COO to bring to the table?

Consider your vision for the company’s operations and analyze your past hiring decisions to understand your current needs better.

Before launching an external search, evaluate the potential for promoting from within or making a lateral hire. You might just find a strong COO candidate with a proven track record and existing alignment with your company culture.

2. Understand the Job Market and Set a Budget

Researching the job market will help you set a budget for a fair, competitive, but sustainable salary range.

As of January 2024, the going range for a COO’s salary is $380,746 and $634,550.

But did you know you can save significantly by hiring a part-time, fractional COO instead of a full-time COO?

That’s right, jump ahead and learn how to take this step with Go Fractional.

3. Write a Clear COO Job Description

Use a COO job description template and look at how other companies describe the role. Then, craft one that encapsulates your requirements perfectly.

Include both the hard skills (such as operational strategy and financial management) and soft skills (like leadership and communication) required. Differentiate between essential qualifications and those that are preferred for operational excellence.

The resulting COO job description should be both clear and concise.

Steven Schwartz profile image
Steven Schwartz
  1. Fractional COO
  2. Data Sales
  3. Health Tech
Seasoned COO with leadership experience in 11 companies from $3M to $350M in revenue.

II. The Hiring Process

With a solid foundation, you can move on to sourcing, assessing, and selecting your COO.

Below are some tips for each of these steps:

4. Source Candidates Through Reliable Channels

​​Advertise your vacancy on job boards frequented by your ideal candidates.

However, avoid relying on just hiring platforms for this.

Leverage your online and offline network for referrals and word-of-mouth recommendations.

Finally, consider engaging an executive search firm, like Go Fractional, which can also streamline this process. This could free you up from a complex and drawn-out hiring process to focus on other core responsibilities.

5. Standardize Your Process

Ensure the interview process is standardized and scalable. This will help you maintain coherence, consistency, and overall reliability of the process.

Here’s how:

  • Align with the interview team on questions to ask and skills to dig into.
  • Schedule calibration sessions before and after an interview circuit.
  • Quantify results by numeric scoring and conversations led by the human resource team.
  • Measure the interview notes and metrics for future understanding of the process and success of the candidate.

This structured approach aids in making objective decisions and provides valuable insights for future hiring.

6. Assess Candidates Thoroughly

Go beyond the typical theoretic evaluations.

Instead, employ real-life scenarios and probing questions to gauge candidates' experiences.

The interview process should delve into their business acumen, vision for your company, and how well they align with your company culture.

Dig into this exhaustive list of COO interview questions to get started on your process

7. Make a Careful Choice

The search for a COO can be lengthy; patience is key.

Conduct thorough background checks and clarify commitment levels (part-time/full-time) and potential start dates before extending an offer.

Collect and conduct references from previous team members and managers. Understand how to set this person up for success and learn how they communicate and take feedback.

Consult board members or work with legal counsel to draft relevant hiring documents to protect the company.

And don’t forget, an executive search firm like Go Fractional can take over all of this for you so you can focus on finding a COO.

Tristram Hewitt profile image
Tristram Hewitt
  1. Fractional COO
  2. Business Development
  3. Team Building
Strategic leader with impactful tenure at Bain and Turo, driving operational excellence and growth in dynamic markets.

8. Onboard & Integrate

A candidate’s long-term success and integration into your organization relies on how well you onboard them. So, equip your new COO with everything they need to succeed from day one.

The first 90 days are critical to setting the tone and speed and building trust and respect inside your organization.

Follow these onboarding best practices:

  • Clearly outline the COO’s responsibilities, their objectives, and how their role aligns with the company’s strategic goals.
  • Introduce them to executive team members and stakeholders to build necessary partnerships and communication channels.
  • Provide access to the tools, information, and support needed to understand the company's operations, culture, and challenges.
  • Define achievable goals for the early stages to help measure impact and adjust the business strategy as needed.
  • Implement consistent feedback sessions to address any concerns and ensure alignment with company objectives.

In summary, hiring a COO requires a careful blend of preparation, strategic searching, thorough assessment, and thoughtful integration.

Elliot Darvick profile image
Elliot Darvick
  1. Fractional COO
  2. Marketplaces
  3. Regional Growth
Team-centric operations leader with entrepreneurial experience and diverse expertise, spanning brand strategy, M&A, and more.

And while you’re looking for the perfect candidate, don’t forget to keep an eye out for these red flags.

6 Red Flags to Look Out for When Hiring a COO


A high-value hire, like a COO, demands an exceedingly rigorous background check to weed out unsuitable candidates.

Use these criteria to judge your potential COO.

1. Lack of Alignment with Company Culture and Values

During the interview process, a COO candidate could betray their lack of regard and alignment with your values.

If you spot this, it’s safer to drop the candidate — despite their other technical qualifications and relevant experience.

Such misalignment can hinder teamwork and disrupt the workplace environment, making hiring them detrimental to your company’s vision.

2. Inadequate Experience or Skills for Your Specific Needs

Ideally, a senior executive like a COO should have a robust background that aligns with your company's current challenges and future goals.

A lack of relevant experience or skills could limit their ability to strategize and execute plans effectively, impacting overall business growth and operational efficiency.

However, it’s equally important to remember that, sometimes, a candidate’s aptitude and eagerness to learn can make up for their lack of experience. This way, you’d be investing in their potential rather than relying on their past accomplishments.

3. Poor Communication Skills

The COO role requires liaising between various department heads, senior executives, the CEO, and external parties.

Inadequate communication skills can lead to misunderstandings, inefficiencies, and a breakdown in teamwork, making this an essential trait to evaluate.

Watch out for signs of poor communication in both writing and speaking. Measure this skill via their emails, presentations, how they summarize what they heard, and the messages they broadcast to the organization.

4. Resistance to Feedback or Change

A COO candidate who shows an unwillingness to accept feedback or adapt to change may not be well-suited for a role that requires flexibility and continuous improvement.

This resistance can stifle innovation and hinder the company's ability to navigate through evolving market conditions.

You can judge this from their responses to your live feedback during the interview stages.

5. Overemphasis on Past Successes Without a Vision for the Future

A successful COO has the right to brag about their track record. However, focusing solely on past achievements without a clear plan for future contributions can be a red flag.

There are people who were at a business while it scaled and people who scaled a business. You need to ensure that you have the latter.

Ask them forward-looking questions to judge their ability to think strategically, anticipate challenges and opportunities, and work towards long-term objectives.

6. Negative Feedback from References

Negative feedback from previous employers or colleagues regarding a candidate's work ethic, leadership style, or professional conduct should be taken seriously.

You could always verify these claims with your candidate and allow them to justify their position.

Conduct a holistic evaluation to arrive at the truth.

Identifying these red flags early in the hiring process can save your company from potential setbacks and ensure you select the right COO.

To avoid the expensive mistake of hiring the wrong COO, try working with one on a part-time or fractional basis and then consider hiring them full-time.

Lauren Haag profile image
Lauren Haag
  1. Data Strategy
  2. Retail
  3. Resale Operations
10+ years of experience at the intersection of analytics and operations, driving efficiency at Disney, Walmart, and DocuSign.

Find Your Ideal Fractional COO with Go Fractional


Go Fractional is your chance to skip the queue and pick from an elite selection of experienced COOs from our extensive network.

Our COO candidates have been part of Fortune 500 companies as well as spearheaded unprecedented growth for startups.

More importantly, you don’t need to be involved in the administrative task of the hiring process. Go Fractional provides end-to-end support — from scouting talent to onboarding them into your team.

Here’s How We Find Suitable COO Candidates for You:

  • Contact us for exclusive access to our vast network of talented professionals, including those not currently listed on the site. Receive tailored recommendations based on your unique requirements. If this still doesn’t fit your bill, don’t worry. We’ll reach out to more qualified candidates from beyond our existing network and find you the right person for the job.
  • Meet with the professionals to discuss the role, their fit, timelines, company values, etc. If you both see eye to eye on what matters, you can move forward to the next step.
  • Go Fractional will send you a detailed proposal that outlines the nitty gritty details of the fractional executive’s engagement. It’s time to sign the dotted line and get to work on making your vision a reality.

Our Selection Criteria

Here’s how we know that we’re always connecting you with the cream of the crop when it comes to fractional COO candidates:

  • All our candidates submit a detailed profile describing their experience so far, which we study carefully before bringing them on.
  • Go Fractional prioritizes professionals who not only have extended relevant experience but also prefer candidates who have ventures of their own to work on.
  • Finally, we spend time with all members, ensuring they are not only a great community fit but great to contribute to client companies.

And if all of this isn’t reason enough, consider the savings.

How Much Does a Fractional COO Cost?

The pricing for an experienced fractional COO through Go Fractional fluctuates based on their engagement duration, depth of expertise, and the breadth of responsibilities undertaken.

Expect a monthly budget of $10,000 to $20,000, translating to an annual expense of $120,000 to $240,000.

If you are a startup, there are also savings by not issuing stock options.

When compared to the total yearly earnings of full-time COOs — together with bonuses and equity — this figure presents a significantly cost-effective option.

So what are you waiting for?

Get on board by hiring a fractional COO and add operational expertise to your leadership team today!

Connect with Go Fractional for more information.

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