How to stay positive and build confidence? Both are key to a board appointment.

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More than 15 years of board recruitment experience 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, a board appointment within 6 months should be your expectation. If you do the right things then an appointment will occur far quicker than you might think it will. 

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 the aspirations of mine realistic or am I pursuing roles unsuitable for me?’ Then go about answering them and focusing your time on the aspects you can control. This is an important facet of career resilience. 

Don’t give up – move forward with some practical steps

Don’t take the rejection personally

Not getting the role you wanted for can feel like a massive blow but it’s important to remember that this is not a personal failure, neither will it be the first nor the last in your life. Rather leverage the experience to improve your approach. What could you do better? 

Ask for feedback

If you don’t get the role you applied for, make sure you ask why. Don’t miss a chance to request feedback on what didn’t work. This valuable insight will help you to put in a more compelling application or perform better at the next interview. Honest feedback is difficult to hear but it is also difficult to give. So if you want it you must give them permission to give it to you – warts and all. This is a fundamental part of asking for feedback and something is rarely done.

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 prior to Mickey Mouse, there would be no Disney today and almost every business owner would say the same thing. Whilst staying positive is easier said than done it is absolutely critical because the opposite is disastrous. Don’t get disgruntled. It will quickly turn into an ‘it is not me but you mentality’ and this negative tone will 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

Whilst some people experience immediate success, for most, gaining a board appointment takes time. If gaining a board appointment is taking longer than you think it should, 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 which means doing the wrong things – not getting a return on the investment of your time; and… 

You will likely have lost your confidence.

Enjoy the journey

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. Because, if you have this approach the process will unlock board opportunities that 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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