Almost 20 years of board recruitment experience has taught me that rejection is part of the process of gaining a board appointment. It is not only your networks, skills or long years of experience that will secure an appointment. Staying positive and building your confidence is critical. Successful NEDs know this to be true.
How to build and stay confident during the board appointment process
To begin with, manage your aspirations. Make sure the roles you are pursuing are realistic. Put yourself in their shoes. If you were the Chair, would you appoint you to that board? If you can’t say ‘absolutely yes’, then it is likely that, in a competitive environment, you will likely be outgunned by a competing candidate. So review your experience, your passions, your skills and your level of experience. Map it out and then list the names of companies that would value that combined experience and discount the ones that won’t.
Then, manage your expectations. From a standing start, a board appointment within 12 months is what you should aspire to. However, if this is your first board role, attaining may take longer. If you do the right things and stay committed to the process, then an appointment will occur far quicker.
Regardless of your expectations, be prepared for rejection. Disappointment is par for the course for even the most successful NEDs. If you have not yet received an offer or received a ‘thank you but no thank you’ email in response to an application, you will.
Knowing how to manage this rejection is key. Instead of putting your head in your hands and quitting your search, ask yourself: ‘How can I improve?, ‘What can I do differently?’ Are my board aspirations realistic? Or am I pursuing roles unsuitable for me?’ Then go about honestly and comprehensively answering these questions. Remain focussed on the aspects you can control. This is an essential facet of career resilience.
Don’t give up – move forward with some practical steps
1) Don’t take the rejection personally
Not getting the role you wanted can feel like a massive blow, but it’s important to remember that this is not a personal failure, nor will it be the first nor the last in your life. Instead, leverage the experience to improve your approach. What could you do better?
2) Ask for feedback
If you don’t get the role you applied for, make sure you to ask why. Don’t miss a chance to request feedback and determine what didn’t work. This valuable insight will help you to put in a more compelling application or perform better at the next interview opportunity. Honest feedback is difficult to hear but also difficult to give. So if you want it, you must permit them to provide it – warts and all. This is a fundamental part of asking for feedback, and something is rarely done.
3) Refine your strategy
Look at what you have done so far and see if there are any steps you can take to improve your approach. Is there an aspect of the process that you need to work on? Is there any additional experience or qualifications that might make you more attractive to potential boards and get motivated again? Are there any events or networking opportunities that could help boost your profile?
4) Stay positive
Maintain an optimistic outlook and remember that rejection is part of the journey. If Walt Disney had given up at any of the challenging points he faced before Mickey Mouse, there would be no Disney today, and almost every business owner would say the same thing. While staying positive is easier said than done, it is critical because the opposite is disastrous. Don’t get disgruntled. It will quickly turn into an ‘”it’s not me, it’s you” mentality. This negative tone can creep into your language and attitude. I have seen it happen countless times, the results being the death knell of your board search.
These 3 things can make a massive difference in obtaining a board appointment
While some people experience immediate success, gaining a board appointment takes time for most. If gaining a board appointment takes longer than you think, you may be doing one of three things wrong. They are:
- Being unable to define a list of organisations you want and can be appointed to that will help you achieve your longer-term board aspirations – a list of targets;
- An inability to articulate your value at board level– a compelling pitch verbally or on paper; and
- A lack of understanding about how board appointments take place means doing the wrong things – not getting a return on the investment of your time and…likely, having lost your confidence.
Enjoy the journey and the experienced gained
In the beginning, it is the end, but in the end, it is the journey. It really is. You need to see the success of your board search not in terms of the number of appointments you have but rather a process that needs to be followed. If you have this approach, the process will unlock board opportunities you may never have dreamed of.
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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