You scanned our available board vacancies and found the perfect board opportunity for you. You have done your online research as well as your personal research, so now you feel ready to complete a board application that will stand out above the rest. But before you write your application, there is one final element to your personal research that I want to emphasize; the phone call to the search firm or contact person in the original advertisement. This is non-negotiable. It can set you apart from all the other candidates vying for the same position.
The timing of the phone call is very important. It should only occur after you have completed all your online- and personal research – not before. Making the call before you have all your information will not make you stand out above the crowd. You will be tempted to ask questions like, “can you tell me about the role?”
A question like this will make you instantly forgettable, while having completed the research will give you enough information so you can have an informed conversation with the recruiter. This will differentiate you from the other applicants and make you memorable for the right reasons.
Make that board opportunity yours by making yourself unforgettable
You should employ a tactic where you engage the recruiter or board representative with meaningful questions that show that you have done your homework. You can start with something like, “hello, I would like to speak to you about the recently advertised board role. I have… (continue by listing the personal research you have done).”
Anyone can spill a few sentences they read online, so it’s important that you show that you have gone further than merely surfing the web for information. Once you have finished engaging on those points, you can move on by saying something like, “if I tell you a little about my experience to date, could you tell me if this is the sort of experience the board is looking for?”
Having done proper research, you will know which experience you should emphasize so you already answer the question of your applicability in the recruiter’s mind. This is a powerful approach and will ensure that you stand out from the other applicants who will likely just call and ask about the role. It is particularly effective when dealing with recruiters but even more so when talking directly with the board’s contact person or the Chair. It makes you memorable and provides comfort around your potential appointment from the first contact.
An example of setting yourself apart and have the board opportunity in the bag
Many think that they can take a shortcut during the research process. Maybe you can but by doing so, you will reduce the layers of value and comfort you will be providing the Chair with. You just don’t know what are the really important factors that he/she specifically needs to know about to be convinced of your suitability for his/her board – do it all and be sure that you will dare them not to appoint you.
I have seen this level of research pay off numerous times; let me give you a recent example
I recently conducted a board search for a retail, tourism and primary industry organisation. The organisation was made up of producers, an educational facility, a tourism centre and retail outlets. There were multiple stakeholders and the board was made up of a number of these. It was an iconic organisation that had been run by a very traditional board – 12 white male board members with a specific view on governance and prone to upholding a stakeholder perspective.
The brief to me was clear; they were after a new board member with retail experience. Since they had always had a male board, this was something that the Chair wanted to address. However, he was fearful of disrupting the status quo with a female board member, so in passing he suggested that the best fit would be another man. I pushed for a diverse group of candidates and he finally agreed that they would give it a chance.
The search went well and I was able to provide a shortlist of 2 male- and 2 female candidates. All 4 candidates were qualified for the role. Nonetheless, the women recognized early on that they faced a bigger challenge. Not daunted by this prospect, they both embarked on a journey in which they did proper online and personal research. They followed my advice to the letter.
Both female candidates:
- Did their desk based research to find out the background and the issues affecting the board
- Visited the site
- They purchased products from the retail outlets
- They undertook the courses available
- They spoke with the retailers about their situation
- They spoke with previous financial backers
- They spoke with board members who knew the board of the organisation
- And they spoke with me – the recruiter.
By doing this, they both demonstrated that they were heads and shoulders above the 2 male candidates. Their hard work made me look good when I presented them to the board and the Chair was put at ease around the potential of appointing them.
A few months earlier the board didn’t even want to consider female candidates but by following my advice and doing the legwork, they set themselves apart from all other candidates. The most difficult part for the Chair was choosing between the two of them.
Why this approach to your board application will set you apart
Your online research is merely a starting point for more in-depth personal research. It’s the latter that will set you apart and make you stand out so you are not just another face in the crowd of applicants. It equips you to ask the right questions of the right people.
The personal research I recommend you undertake is much more daunting than sitting behind a computer but it has various benefits:
- Most of your competitor peers won’t do this level of research – as such you can easily set yourself apart from the pack
- You can easily demonstrate yourself to be intelligent, proactive and impressive – further separating yourself from the pack
- You will write a better application with details and responses that will specifically address their current issues
- You will become a warm candidate and as such more memorable – when it comes time to determine a list of candidates to be shortlisted, you will likely be picked either for the level or research you did or as a direct result of the way in which you conducted your research
- You will gain better information about the role which you can reference in an interview
- You will have made new connections or renewed old ones, gained valuable insight into the workings of the organisation and equipped yourself to put in a stronger application. In short, you will really dare them not to appoint you.
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About the Author
David Schwarz is CEO & Founder of Board Direction – Australia’s leading board advertising and non-executive career support firm. He has over a decade of experience of putting people on boards as an international headhunter and a non-executive recruiter and has interviewed over one thousand non-executives and placed hundreds into some of the most significant public, private and NFP roles in the world. He has been described as Australia’s leading board recruitment expert, is a published author, a regular speaker on the board appointment process and runs Board Search Masterclasses across Australia. He is one of Australia’s Top 10 LinkedIn users with over 28,000 connections. Email: [email protected]