In order to become an ethics officer, you will need extensive work experience in the area of compliance and, in many cases, work and educational experience in the areas of law and ethics. Typically, an ethics officer occupies a high-ranking position within an organization and may answer only to its chief executive officer. You can expect to spend many years working in the area of legal and regulatory compliance before you can be promoted to this position. To prepare to become an ethics officer, you may wish to take ethics and law courses in school, participate in the activities of compliance professional associations, and complete specialized training programs for compliance and ethics workers.
Many companies combine the areas of business ethics with compliance, charging compliance employees with ensuring that the company conforms to legal, regulatory, and industry standards while also ensuring that its processes and actions are ethical. To get a job in compliance, you may wish to study business administration, library science, or law, as all of these areas address various aspects of compliance practice, including research and understanding of legal issues as well as general business practices. In some cases, you may need specialized training to adequately perform as a compliance manager or officer. For example, if you work in the compliance department of a financial or securities company, you should have a background in finance education.
As you develop your career in compliance, you may wish to broaden your education by taking undergraduate- or graduate-level ethics classes. You may even be able to find a postgraduate program in business ethics. In addition, you should become very familiar with the industry in which you operate, paying special attention to current ethical questions as well as the industry's history of dealing with ethical quandaries. When you become an ethics officer, you may need to rely on this information in order to effectively develop organizational policy and assess your company's actions.
If you plan to become an ethics officer, you should prepare to advance into management and eventually executive-level work. This may mean indicating your desire to enter the executive track in communications with your company's human resources department as well as your own supervisor. Continue to expand your proficiencies and responsibilities within your department, including the management of other employees. When possible, volunteer for committees and other opportunities to understand and shape your organization's policies and mission.