In a previous article on diversity in the boardroom I made a plea for board seats to be more obtainable to a wider, qualified, more diverse audience with a broad range of talent. To remain competitive and profitable, our corporations depend on it. This opens the market to a much wider group of prospective directors to gain a corporate board seat.
The competition for a corporate board seat is fierce. These positions are relatively scarce, as director turnover isn’t very high. While boards interview a number of candidates when a seat becomes available, it’s your opportunity to throw your hat in the ring and convince a board that you are the right person for the job.
How Do They Find Candidates for a Corporate Board Seat?
There are very few things as exciting as serving as director of a public company. It allows you to put your skills to their ultimate use and benefit from the challenge. Public companies face new challenges every year and while filling a corporate board seat, you can learn from these challenges and how the board finds solutions to overcome them.
More often than not joining a corporate board is by invitation only. Simply knocking on the door and asking to be interviewed will never do. Sometimes board recruiters are asked to present a list of candidates but many times the board works independently to find the right candidate for the job.
Corporations often ask Board Direction to find the right candidate to fill a corporate board seat. For this reason, it’s important to register and add your credentials to our NED Directory. It allows the board to find you and determine whether you are the most qualified candidate for the role.
Which Corporate Board will be Right for Me?
The earlier you get familiar with the world of corporate boards, the more productive and enjoyable your portfolio career will be. You don’t have to wait until you are a senior executive on the verge of retirement to find a corporate board seat. Boards look for talented, ambitious people with a variety of skills to supplement the traditional board room and that may be just the opportunity you have been looking for.
CEO’s, CFO’s and VP’s of public companies will always be in high demand for board roles. Boards want individuals from that ‘gene pool’ to chair their committees, advise on corporate governance, help with succession planning and help with the financials the company is grappling with. However, as a professional with knowledge of a certain subject, you can also be incredibly valuable to a corporate board.
It boils down to looking at the composition of the board and finding where your specific knowledge, skills and talent can fill a void and add value. Digital technology, cyberfraud, international market entry, employee engagement and retention, social media and political navigation are all areas that more and more corporates are grappling with.
The Steps to Gaining a Corporate Board Seat
- Once you decide that you want a corporate board seat, your first order of business will be to look at your previous experience. Is your skillset in high demand for most boards or will it only be needed by a specific type of board? For instance, if you have a medical background, a board that operates in the health sector will probably have a demand for your skills.
- Pinpoint the industry you can best serve in. Obviously industries in which you hold direct experience will be the easiest to break into. However, as you research and look deeper into the needs of certain companies, you may find a completely different industry also in search of your specific range of experience.
- Look at the size of the company. You almost have to be a corporate rock star to gain a seat on a large corporate board. Especially in the beginning, you may find it easier to find your first corporate board seat with a small to medium company. As you build on your governance experience and prove your worth in a ‘smaller’ role, you will eventually find it easier to be recruited by a bigger corporate’s board.
- Although I don’t recommend serving on a Not-for-Profit board for the mere purpose of gaining a corporate board seat, it will have definite benefits. Rubbing shoulders with corporate board members that volunteer their time for a NfP can make you a known entity for when a corporate board seat opens up. Take your NfP role serious and work closely with the CEO, especially on financial matters. The value you can later add with the financial savvy you will have gained, will all but guarantee you that corporate board seat.
- Ensure you have a Board Ready CV. As you gain experience and knowledge that will be applicable to a corporate board, you can add it to your CV to show your ability to successfully serve on their board.
- The whole application process, from your CV and Cover Letter to the board interview, will differ from that for an executive position. Being fully prepared is crucial. You don’t want to show yourself as the hard-driving type that is usually required from an executive. For a board role you need to show yourself as a collaborative person who will not micromanage the CEO and company’s executives.
- Be vocal about your aspirations. Since most board roles are filled by word-of-mouth, it’s important that you make it known to your network. Tell as many people as will listen that you are willing and able to fill that vacancy.
You don’t have to sit passively hoping that a corporate board will one day knock on your door. You can and should take action. Taking action and making the right moves can immeasurably increase your odds of earning a corporate board seat and dare them not to appoint you.