How do I find a paid board role?

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Gaining a paid board opportunity is a highly competitive process with both aspiring and existing board directors vying for the same positions. 

There are four ways people get board appointments. With some of these approaches being far more effective than others.

Recruiters, Not for Profits, Networks and the Direct Approach

Executive Search Firms: Many believe that the best way to get a paid board role is to send your CV to a search firm. It is important to understand that search firms are retained to find directors to serve on boards, not to find board seats for potential directors. While some do add unsolicited CVs to their databanks, others simply ignore them.

I once had a conversation with a recently retired CEO who met with a number of recruiters to express his interest in board service. Whilst the conversations were enjoyable he found that the meetings seldom yielded results. Nonetheless, search firms should not be ignored; if the stars align such that you happen to meet when he/she is conducting a search where your background is a fit, your name may be put forward. But many who take this approach continue to wait for ‘the’ call.

Not for Profits: Others think that serving on a not-for-profit board will get you on a for-profit board position. This primarily works if someone on that board serves on a for-profit board that is looking for a new director and puts your name forward. However, if you do not yet have a board role then serving on a not-for-profit board can offer a number of valuable attributes.

  1. It can give you a taste of whether you enjoy being a board member.
  2. It can also provide references from fellow trustees that are often useful when you’re being considered for a for-profit board.
  3. As most search-firm databases focus on individuals with prior board experience, sitting on a not for profit board means that you can now call yourself a ‘Non Executive Director’. This title alone can boost your chances of being appointed to a for-profit board.

Your connections: If finding a paid board role is your goal then I find that the best way to begin is to let your connections know of your interest in taking on a board seat. Ask yourself how many people who know you know you are interested in getting a board appointment – my guess is most wouldn’t.

Just doing this one simple thing can dramatically increase your chances of being appointed. Whilst the vast majority of paid board roles occur via personal connections you may be interested to know that the majority of board appointments occur through connections met ‘rarely or infrequently’. More about this in coming weeks but the take away is that the people you know well are less likely to find you a board appointment and instead should be viewed as a resource to increase your networks. It is these associated networks that are most powerful.


Which board is for you: You should also consider the type of board where your experience would have greatest relevance and develop a list of target companies where your background might be a particular asset.

I know many a portfolio director who had made their career by doing just this – it really works. To do it effectively you should understand the skills of the current board members and how your skills would compliment them. Essentially, approaching an organisation with a ‘board solution’ i.e. how you can help – is what you should do. The results can be impressive.

Many directors have found their first paid board role through other networks involving auditors, executive compensation consultants or lawyers they’ve worked with who service several board clients. Others have landed their first seat by expressing interest to contacts in venture capital firms who might become involved in initial public offerings.

Increase Your Chances of Finding a Paid Board Role

You cannot be everywhere or know about every vacancy so, beyond alerting people to your aspirations, working with recruiters and approaching organisations directly, you should also compliment your search by registering with a service such as Board Direction to gain access to the numerous vacancies advertised each month. Importantly, we can get your CV together so when you do find opportunities you have a document reflects why you should be appointed – this is not an executive CV!

Our upcoming Board Search Masterclasses is always a good place to learn what recruiters know about giving yourself the best opportunity to find a paid board role.

As always, your first step in landing a board role lies in letting Board Direction help you dare them not to appoint you.