How long will it take to gain a board appointment or build a board career?

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It’s always difficult to provide a hard and fast answer to this question, as there are countless variables at play and everyone’s aspirations will differ. However, when thinking about a board appointment, it is true to say that “the harder you work, the luckier you will get”. 

Whilst I recognise that this is a fairly glib statement to make it is also not always true, is it? There are plenty of examples of people working hard and not getting ‘lucky’. So, what does getting lucky really mean?

For aspiring board directors, luck occurs when opportunity meets preparation

As such, I actually think ‘how long will it take?’ is the wrong question to ask. Instead, the questions you should be asking, are:

    • Opportunity: What opportunities exist? Do you know which organisation you want to be appointed to? Do you know which organisations will value your contribution? Do you know which organisations you are likely to be appointed to? And Do you have a list of target organisations?
    • Preparation: How prepared am I? Do you have a compelling board pitch? Do you have supporting documents that accurately reflect your value?

It is NOT a journey.

People think gaining a board appointment is a journey. A journey suggests a long winding and pleasant exercise with a far off destination. When it comes to gaining a board appointment this couldn’t be further from the truth. It is not a journey, it is a process. A clearly defined and easy to implement process that should end in a board appointment far quicker than you ever imagined.

Examples of success from following a clearly defined process

    • A current NED Program member was appointed to the board of a commercial transport/infrastructure board that we advertised within just three months of becoming a member after we wrote his board application, walked him through the people he needed to speak with, the preparation he needed to do and conducted a mock interview.
    • Another of our Executive members sent me this note just yesterday. “Thank you so much for all your assistance, David. Your expertise in reviewing my CV and interview preparation has paid dividends. Your services and wisdom are priceless. This application was my third board application.”
    • Still, another sent me a very simple text when they were appointed to their first paid board just months into the NED Program. It simply read ‘The process works!’

Whilst not everyone may gain a board appointment within months of starting the process, it seems to me that the evidence is pretty clear. The more preparation you do, the more opportunities are put in front of you and the luckier you will get.

So, how long will it take for you to be appointed to a board?

Well, it depends, doesn’t it? Do you know which sort of organisation you want and can be appointed to? Can you powerfully articulate your board offering? Are you willing to put the time and effort into securing an appointment? If you can answer ‘yes’ to each of these questions, then you should expect an appointment (or many) within 12 months – but you should aspire to gain one far quicker than that.

Should you not be successful within 12 months, then it is highly likely that you are doing at least one of three things wrong.

  1. ASPIRATION – You haven’t got a clear idea of what organisation you want and can be appointed to – you are getting distracted, losing the confidence of those who might be able to help or simply don’t know where to begin. 
  2. ARTICULATION – You can’t articulate your value to the boards of those organisations or ones just like it – you aren’t getting past the application process, failing at interviews or just not getting recommended for roles.
  3. APPLICATION – You just aren’t working hard enough – you are relying on the old way of doing things – the things all your competitors are doing

In summary

How long will take for me to gain a board appointment is one of the most common questions I am asked by aspiring NEDs and those hoping to transition into a board portfolio career. I completely understand why. Who wants to strive towards a goal tirelessly without any measurable means to determine whether they are making headway or not. People want to know when they should expect a return on their monetary, time and emotional investment. Timeframes work because they offer an opportunity to review what you have been doing and assess whether it was valuable. 

Timeframes alone are not the answer. You must have a clear framework and process in place too. 

For this reason, our Executive package and the NED Program are both designed to be delivered over a 12 month period. Primarily because 12 months is a suitable amount of time to define and target the right opportunities, and then implement a process that will get you appointed – regardless of your skills and level of experience.

So in short, if you get the process right then a board appointment within 12 months should be your expectation, however, your aspiration should be a board appointment far quicker.

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

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