Chief of Staff Job Description, Duties & Interview Questions

Written by Beth Jacobs

December 29, 2023

A chief of staff is a gap filler. 

Acting as a key thought partner and strategic doer, a chief of staff offers customized, high-level support to executive team members

Because every leader has different strengths, a chief of staff job description needs to be customized to fit the needs of the individual or leadership team they will support. Copy-pasting a job description that you find on a job search website isn’t likely to bring you candidates who are a great match for your needs.

In this guide to hiring a chief of staff, we’ll offer a template job description you can build off of, and we’ll also cover everything you need to know about the role to find the right person for your organization. 

Key Duties of a Chief of Staff

The core duties of the chief of staff position are:

  • Serving as strategic thought partner and advisor to leaders
  • Providing communications support and leading the follow-up and action planning from meetings
  • Setting the vision, strategy, and goals for large-scale initiatives and special projects and managing their implementation
  • Creating and maintaining cross-departmental relationships to enable leadership success

However, depending on the size of the organization and the strengths and weaknesses of the executive they support, their additional duties could include any of the following: 

  • People management and workforce development
  • Finance and accounting
  • Sales Operations
  • Recruiting and HR
  • Business Process & Systems Management

Chief of Staff Job Description Template

Use the following template as a starting place to craft your job posting for a chief of staff

Summary 

[COMPANY X] is seeking a highly qualified chief of staff who can serve as a strategic right hand, thought partner, and force multiplier for our [JOB TITLE OF EXECUTIVE TEAM MEMBER THEY WILL SUPPORT]. This individual will be responsible for overseeing, analyzing, and managing the organization’s business process, systems, and workflows and acting as an internal consulting strategist and project manager in helping the organization maximize efficiency and profitability. The ideal candidate will have a minimum of 12 years of professional experience, with experience in management, HR, strategy, operations, and/or project management roles and additional functional expertise in [HIGHLIGHT GAP AREAS].

Who You Are

  • You are a strategic thinker, data-driven and analytical in your approach. You are great at identifying solutions to problems.
  • You have excellent communication skills. You can easily learn to communicate in someone else’s “written voice”.
  • You excel at building relationships and networks, and influencing others, particularly those you don’t directly manage, to achieve outcomes. You excel at uniting teams with your excellent verbal communication and interpersonal skills, acting as a facilitator between teams.  
  • You thrive on improvement of systems and processes, and you love creating order out of chaos.
  • You’re obsessed with productivity. Your time management skills ensure no moment is wasted.

Responsibilities

  • Oversee strategic initiatives and large scale projects from ideation to implementation
  • Identify and help solve core problems or opportunities within business processes
  • Help executive identify priorities, and strategically align their time with those priorities
  • Act as a key thought partner, brainstorming and identifying solutions to challenges
  • Provide communications support; draft emails, reports, memos, presentations, internal
  • and external communications, and/or social media posts
  • Support executive with any of the following: strategic planning; project management;
  • board meeting preparation & follow up; action planning; team management; budget management; and human resources, fundraising, defining key performance indicators, hiring and onboarding team members 
  • Plan, organize, and run meetings with internal and external stakeholders and own follow-up action items
  • Improve internal processes and decision-making

Qualifications

Education & Prior Experience:

  • Minimum of 12 years of experience OR relevant advanced degree and at least 3 years of professional experience; executive-level experience preferred 
  • Bachelor’s degree required; Master’s degree in business administration, public administration, or a related field preferred
  • Experience in management, HR, strategy, operations, and/or project management roles;
  • History of promotions and progression in roles with demonstrable strong results

Preferred Skills

  • High level of proficiency in Microsoft Office Suite and/or Google Workspace.
  • Proficient in data analysis
  • [ADD SPECIFIC AREAS OF EXPERTISE TO FILL GAPS]

Chief of Staff Scope of Work Examples

The role of a chief of staff can vary significantly from one organization to another, or even within a single organization, depending on the gaps needing to be filled. It can be helpful to look at real-life examples to grasp the potential impact of the role. 

Here are 3 scopes of work from real vChief clients showing the variety within the role. 

CoS Scope of Work for Established Business:

#1: Support the CEO: In conjunction with the EA and Managing Director, work directly with the chief executive to help them effectively and efficiently manage their time, by serving as gatekeeper and prioritizing their schedule, tasks, output and communication.

#2: Business Process & Systems Management: Create and build more structure around the company’s daily operations to drive excellence, efficiency, and scalability. Implement long-term strategic initiatives that meet company objectives. Hold staff accountable by tracking and prioritizing tasks.

#3: Communication: Provide agile and quick response to ongoing executive communication with key stakeholders (email, client communication, project management support, meeting communication, etc.). 

CoS Scope of Work for Early-Stage Startup:

#1: Fundraising Research: Research and recommend which VC firms executive should reach out to first. Research a list of 100 VCs who might be a fit.

#2: Communications: Support VC outreach, and help develop fundraising pitch. Provide coaching to prepare executive to meet with VCs.

CoS Scope of Work for Growing Nonprofit:

#1: Strategy Development: Collaborate with senior leadership to develop strategy for launching a new External Affairs department that will include marketing and communications functions. Strategy should address how to start an external affairs department from scratch in a rapidly growing organization, identify what gaps need to be filled, and how to break down silos and build cohesion between existing departments. 

#2: Thought Partnership: Determine how to adjust messaging and communications to incorporate DEI strategy. Align fundraising messaging with overall communications and marketing strategy. 

What to Look for in a Chief of Staff Candidate

In my experience serving as a chief of staff for multiple organizations and running a company that has placed more than 500 chiefs of staff in more than 750 organizations, the number one skill needed to succeed as a chief of staff is that of being a self-starter. 

But beyond assessing whether someone has the right combination of initiative, autonomy, accountability, and problem-solving skills to succeed as a chief of staff, you need to determine whether their zone of genius will be complementary to yours. 

Many leaders make the mistake of trying to do too much, especially if they’re capable of figuring out most things. 

Elad Gil, author of the High Growth Handbook, notes in a blog post called “Hire a Gap Filler” that CEOs of early-stage companies often “need to do 100 tasks that are not existential to the company, but still important.” Trying to tackle every one of those administrative tasks will drain your energy and distract you from your most important responsibilities as a leader. He recommends hiring a chief of staff to be your gap filler. 

It’s important to make a distinction between the things that you’re capable of doing, and the things you love doing. The things that deplete your energy versus the things within your zone of genius that fill you up. For example, in a previous role where I served as chief of staff, the executive I supported once mentioned to me that he thought doing finance was like taking out the trash. “No one wants to do it, but someone has to, right?” he said. But I told him I was the opposite. I truly enjoy digging around in finances, accounting, spreadsheets. Our complementary zones of genius is one of the things that made me a great fit to support him as a chief of staff

Interview Questions

Here are some sample interview questions for chief of staff candidates. These questions will especially help you determine whether the candidate’s work style, communication style, values and zone of genius are compatible with the executive they will support.

  • What excites you about this work?
  • What questions do you have about the job duties?
  • What past experiences have equipped you with the skills needed for this role?
  • Do you anticipate needing support or lacking experience in any specific aspects of the work?
  • What support would you require from me or my team to be successful?
  • How would you prioritize and spend your time in the first week?
  • Do you prefer collaboration or independent work time? How do you approach collaborative work?
  • What is your communication style, and how do you prefer to keep in touch with colleagues and leaders?
  • What role do you typically play on a team?
  • Share your experiences managing various personalities.

For more interviewing tips for a chief of staff or any other fractional executive position, check out our five-step process for streamlining the candidate selection process for any fractional executive position. 

Additionally, I recommend using the following resume checklist

  • Candidate has shown upward growth in an organization and/or career
  • Candidate has been a functional leader for at least a year
  • Candidate has managed a team
  • Candidate has shown staying power at an organization (minimum of 3 years at one employer in career)

FAQs about the Chief of Staff Role

Q: What kind of companies hire a Chief of Staff

A: There’s a misconception that the chief of staff role is only relevant in the political arena and the military. However, because of the flexible nature of the role, it’s relevant to any organization within the public or private sector. 

Q: What’s the difference between a Chief of Staff and an Executive Assistant

A: A CoS provides high-level strategic support that expands the capacity and effectiveness of the executive. Their duties require much higher levels of skill and experience than an executive assistant. The roles are very complementary and it’s common for a CoS to manage an EA (and any other positions within the office of the CEO). For a more in-depth discussion of the nuances between these positions, refer to our blog post: Chief of Staff vs. Executive Assistant: Which Do You Need?

How to Find a Chief of Staff

At vChief, we place talented change-makers in fractional roles such as Associate Chief of Staff, Chief of Staff, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Human Resources Business Partner, Integrator, and Executive Director. Our clients include startups, nonprofits, foundations, educational organizations, and corporate enterprises. 

We have a diverse pool of nearly 500 highly qualified chief of staff candidates who are ready to take on fractional roles. When you work with us, you don’t even need to write a job description. Our talented team will assess your needs during a free consultation and create a scope of work outlining exactly the kind of support you need. They’ll take the time to get to know you as a leader, understand your organization’s culture, and your goals, and diagnose the biggest obstacles holding you back.

Schedule your free consultation with vChief today to get matched with a capable leader who can take urgent projects and strategic business initiatives off your plate. Your new chief of staff could start within three weeks. 

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