Landing your first, or subsequent, board seat is no easy matter. For many gaining an opportunity to serve can be arduous, so the most commonly asked question remains, “How do I get on a board?”
Motivations and experience aside, following this practical advice could increase your chances of being appointed.
There are three myths about being appointed to a board
There are a shortage of directors willing to serve so it’s easy to get appointed.
Recent feedback from one of my members demonstrated this not to be the case. She was one of 1000 who applied! Most active Chief Executive Officers now limit their outside board seats to one; even retired executives seldom serve on more than three or four. Today Directors are being more selective about the board invitations they accept; some highly qualified execs refuse to consider serving at all. Infact, my conversations with existing board members suggest that often their first response to an invitation to serve on any board is, and should be, ‘no – why should I?” Despite this, Board invitations are indeed rolling in for experienced directors and reducing the opportunities for aspiring Directors.
The best way to get a board seat is to send your CV to a search firm.
Having worked in this realm for almost 10 years I can confirm that search firms are retained to find directors to serve on boards, not to find board seats for potential directors. While some do request, or add, unsolicited CVs to their databases, they more often than not languish there. Although meeting with a recruiter to express interest in board services can be a useful intelligence gathering exercise, it seldom yields direct results. That said, serendipity does come into play – if 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 wait by the phone in vain.
Serving on a not-for-profit board will get you on a for-profit board.
Myth – well kind of.
This can work if you sit on a quality board where others sit on other quality, for profit boards and recommend you. However, most search-firms focus on directors serving on public company boards because they are the high profile candidates that their clients pay to have on their own application lists. Still, serving on a not-for-profit board can give you a taste of whether you enjoy being a board member. It can also provide references from fellow trustees that are often useful when you’re being considered for a for-profit board.
If you’ve never served on the board of a public company, how do you go about getting on one?
Above all, don’t leave your search too late
If you are thinking about a non executive career start your search today. I can’t tell you how many times I have counselled clients – ex CEO’s or recently retired Directors – who say that they now have nothing to do and want to sit on a board. The reality is that for this to happen they should have started their search and board service years ago.
Your Own Board May Be Your Best Resource
While some boards refuse to allow their CEO’s & Directors to accept another board seat, the more enlightened ones recognize the benefits of having their Executive Team to serve elsewhere. If your board is supportive, your directors may be your best resource in finding another appointment. Senior executives approaching retirement, such as a Chief Financial Officer or leader of a major business unit, may also be able to provide leads.
Let people know you are looking
Letting directors with whom you’ve worked know of your interest in taking on a non executive role may be the easiest way for you to find a board to serve on as well as broadening your networks.
Target and Network
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. Then pull up bios of their current board members: Do they have directors who already bring the skills you offer? Are any approaching retirement? Do you know anyone on that board or someone who is likely to know one of the directors through business-, social- or political contacts?
Many directors have found their first board seat 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. LinkedIn is a great resource too. I find that most Board Directors are more than willing to offer their time to other new or aspiring Board Directors.
Tap into Board Direction
Board Direction does two things: 1) We advertise close to 1000 board vacancies each year for over 700 organisations. 2) We provide the services you need to get yourself appointed.
What ever you do make sure that you ‘dare them not to appoint you’.
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 20,000 connections. Email: [email protected]