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What You Should Consider When Hiring a Chief Administrative Officer (CAO)

If the time has come for your city or town council to hire a Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), following best practices by engaging in a recruitment process that ensures you hire the best possible CAO for your community is critical.

To find the right individual – in the right way – municipalities and public sector agencies must rely on recruiting strategies that are both engaging and compliant.

And since municipal recruitment challenges are often the result of too few interested and eligible candidates in the hiring pool, doing your due diligence in exploring and attracting all available talent in the marketplace is essential.

Preparing to Recruit a New CAO

Because your new Chief Administrative Officer will need to thoroughly understand council’s direction to ensure program and service delivery meets their mandate, it’s important to source quality candidates with a high level of relevant experience, education, and training.

Whether this is your first time hiring a municipal officer, or you’ve been through the process before, a good initial step in preparing to recruit a new CAO is reacquainting yourself with the duties and expectations attached to their role.

CAO Duties Overview

As the administrative head of your municipality, you’ll be relying on your CAO to keep council members in the loop so they can make sound decisions.

Chief Administrative Officers essentially serve as the link between council policies and the administration that puts them in place by ensuring:

  • Municipality programs get implemented efficiently
  • Resolutions and bylaws are effectively carried out
  • Council remains informed and advised on all municipal operations

Once you’ve determined the extent of their responsibilities, the salary you assign to your new CAO’s position should reflect their expertise, your budget, and the size and infrastructure of your municipality.

Step-by-Step CAO Recruitment in Brief

Note that the recruitment strategies outlined here offer general guidance only. To meet legislative requirements, be sure to consult the municipal act set out by the province governing your city or town council affairs.

Step 1: Select a Recruitment Process

If your council is considering setting up a special hiring committee, you should expect to invest a significant amount of time in deciding where and how to advertise for a CAO, reviewing applications, contacting candidates, and generally moving the process forward. You can offload many of these details – and provide candidates with a key point of contact – by working with a professional recruitment firm experienced in non-profit municipal recruiting.

Step 2: Screen Applications

Every application you receive will need to be screened fairly and consistently. To identify best-fit CAO applicants, you should consider, as a minimum, their:

  • Relevant work experience and academic qualifications
  • Decision-making, problem-solving, negotiation, and information management skills
  • Comfort level and competence overseeing budgets

Once screening is complete, council members should meet to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each promising applicant and to create a short-list of candidates to be interviewed.

Step 3: Conduct Interviews

Structuring your interviews around open-ended questions will help you evaluate each candidate’s management style. You’ll want to assess, for example, their diplomacy, judgement, and integrity in resolving the issues commonly handled by a municipal CAO. Preparing some technical questions will also help you test their knowledge of council and committee meetings, strategic planning, and municipal finances.

Step 4: Check References

Confirming community and organizational fit by following up on employment and academic references is an integral part of the CAO hiring process. Just be sure you conduct reference checks in a manner that aligns with federal and provincial legislation around the handling of personal information and privacy.

According to a 2017 report put out by the Public Policy Forum, public services fall short of the private sector in expectations for efficiency and flexibility in recruitment. Fortunately, working with a dedicated recruitment firm is a proven way to improve your outreach efforts, including your selection criteria and application processes.

Remember: the strength and success of a municipality are often reflected in its CAO. An effective recruitment process will ensure you hire the candidate with the right skills and experience to meet your community’s needs today and tomorrow.


For more information on municipal recruiting, reach out to one of our municipal recruitment experts.

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What You Should Consider When Hiring a Chief Administrative Officer (CAO)

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