Like much in life we find theory on the one hand and on the other, the actual practice.
I have worked as a headhunter and seen the board appointment process up close for almost 10 years. In my experience, in addition to working your personal connections, there are three ways in which individuals are appointed to a board. They are:
- Search firms (headhunters)
- A direct approach
Whilst many senior executive appointment processes are tied to a rigid format. The board appointment process is often a more personal and flexible affair that is highly reliant upon being a ‘known quantity’.
This is important to understand and should shape the way you look at and apply for board positions because, above all, the recommendations and knowledge that stem from your personal relationships/connections carry significant gravitas in the appointment process – whether formal or informal.
An example of how misconceptions can hinder your chance to get appointed
I have seen well qualified candidates disregarded because of a negative comment made by a board member considering applications. In some cases I have been in an appointment meeting and listened to a board member state that he had heard that a particular candidate, while working with an ex colleague almost 10 years ago in a more junior position, was not a great leader. This is a tenuous critique but when delivered by a board colleague, it led to the candidate’s application, for all intents and purposes, being disregarded. I have equally seen poorly crafted applications be accepted because of an individual’s strong reputation.
Get appointed by becoming a ‘known quantity’
Whilst you should not ignore the formal processes associated with applying for roles in response to an advert or conducted via executive search firms, remember that even within these more formal processes it is also absolutely critical that you get to know the key players, stakeholder or influencers of the organisation that you want to sit on the board of. By doing so you will be setting the ‘mood music’ around your application and be assured of greater success. More about this in articles to come. However, the best way for you to do this is to thoroughly research the opportunity that you are applying for – this means leaving your computer and picking up the phone and conducting some ‘on the ground’ research.
For anyone considering a board career, you need to be aware that gaining a board appointment can be very competitive. You will probably be competing against other candidates with experience and connections. So getting yourself fully prepared so you give yourself the best chance, no matter whether it’s a formal or more personal appointment process, is key. Let Board Direction help you with that preparation so you give yourself the best chance against any competition and dare them not to appoint you.