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Most board directors describe finding their first directorship as arduous and time consuming. It is often said that finding a second and third role is equally as difficult! As such, I am often asked what advice I would give to anyone wanting a board position. My immediate answer is always to start looking well before you need one. Beyond this there are six things that you should consider before getting started.
- Manage your expectations
Many experienced executives, but aspiring board directors, expect their first board role to be remunerated. Remunerated board roles are highly sort after and often involve competitive recruitment processes. Without demonstrable board experience getting this type of role can be challenging. Whether paid or voluntary, a board directorship should never be treated as a stepping stone to something ‘better’ but rather, an opportunity to contribute and build your board skills. In fact, most established board directors describe their small or unpaid directorships as the most enjoyable part of their portfolio career.
- Know what do you have to offer
You should know and practice your ‘elevator pitch’ and be clear on the successes you have had and the experience you bring. Boards want not just your professional experience but access to your networks developed through your existing non executive or executive career so, be clear about what you bring to a board in this regard. Additionally, boards are often as interested in your passion for their organisation as they are in your skill set so make sure you know why you want to apply. If you can’t think of a reason why you want to be a director for that company then perhaps it is worth reconsidering your application.
- Develop your personal connections
The appointment process for board or advisory panel roles in many cases is not dissimilar to that of an executive appointment process. Many find that the majority of opportunities are never advertised and are filled by word of mouth or through existing relationships. So, developing ‘personal connections’ is vital and should form the basis of any search process. There is lot I can recommend in this regard but I find that the most effective tool in finding a board role is simply telling people that you are interested in developing a board career!
- Use executive recruiters
Executive recruiters or ‘headhunters’ are a great source of information and often have access to opportunities that are never advertised. Working effectively with them is key. You should endeavour to maintain frequent (though not annoying) contact so that you remain at the forefront of their minds should an appropriate vacancy become available.
- Get a ‘Board Ready’ CV/Resume
Many people assume that their executive CV is appropriate for board applications. In most cases it is not. A number key changes need to take place to make it ‘board ready’ including: 1. Clearly addressing the four things a Chair looks for in a new board appointment. 2. Listing non-executive, panel or committee experience. 3. Demonstrating your success in strategic and governance environments. If this all seems like too much work then contact us and we can help you write one.
- Write a great cover letter
Chair’s read cover letters, so any applications for non-executive role must include one. Well researched and written cover letters also separate you from your competitors and in a highly competitive application process this is essential. A strong cover letter articulates: Your passion for the role; What you would bring to the role (governance experience, skills & networks)and: Your passion for the company/organisation is a great way to begin any application.
David Schwarz, Managing Director