How to get on a board.

Landing your first, or subsequent, board seat is no easy matter. For many gaining an opportunity to serve on a board can be arduous and the question 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 able to serve on a board.

Firstly, there are three myths about getting on a board:

No. 1: There are a shortage of directors willing to serve so it’s easy to get on a board. Myth

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, and even retired executives seldom serve on more than three or four. Today, Directors are being more selective about the board invitations they accept, and 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.

No. 2: The best way to get a board seat is to send your CV to a search firm. Myth

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 databanks, they more often than not languish there. Meeting with a recruiter to express interest in board service can be a useful intelligence gathering exercise it seldom yields direct results. That said, serendipity does come into play – if the 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.

No. 3: 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-firm 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.

So, if you’ve never served on the board, how do you go about getting on one?

  • Above all, don’t leave your search too late.

If you are thinking about a board 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 now. 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 recognise 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 board to serve on. 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 board seat 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 advertise the most comprehensive and diverse list of board vacancies in Australia and provide the support you need to make the most of the opportunities we advertise or you find elsewhere.

Getting that first board seat remains a challenge, even for highly qualified business leaders. But, once you land your first, more board invitations are sure to follow.

What next?

Board Direction is Australia’s leading Non Executive Director advertising & board career development firm – no one does what we do or can reference the success that we have had in putting people on boards. Specifically, we do two things.

  1. We advertise Australia’s largest & most diverse list of non-executive board vacancies – over 2000 each year
  2. We equip members to develop a board career through practical career services like: Board CV writing, Application Support, the Board Search Course & Non Executive Program and our Board Search Masterclasses & Breakfasts.

People use our services because what we do has been proven to work. As a result, we can evidence having assisted hundreds of members further their board careers through the intimate knowledge we have gained through over a decade of putting people on boards. So, if you: are frustrated with your current board search; can’t find relevant opportunities; have stalled portfolio career; can’t get, or can’t get past, an interview Board Direction can help.

David Schwarz, CEO & Founder