Is a governance qualification required for a board appointment?

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Many people believe that a Governance Qualification is required in order to gain a board appointment. But in reality, for most board roles, a governance qualification rarely makes a difference to your appointability. It will, however, make you a better Non-Executive Director (NED) and can be the thing that separates you from your competitors and that gets you an interview for the board position. Further, upon reviewing our most recent list of Australian and New Zealand board vacancies, only ~15% publicly reference governance training as a prerequisite for a successful board candidate.

What do boards require from candidates?

Having taken briefs from hundreds of Chairs of organisations wanting to appoint new NEDS, I know that regardless of the scope or scale of an organisation, they primarily look for 5 core criteria in successful board candidates:

  1. Prior governance experience – having board LEVEL experience
  2. An executive skill set – that is well articulated and  valuable at board level
  3. Personal connections or gravitas – across industry or sector
  4. Demonstrable passion – for what you do, what the organisation needs, or what the organisation does
  5. Cultural Fit – an ability to work effectively with the existing board, executive and Chair.

You will notice that whilst prior governance experience is desirable, having a formal governance qualification is not in the top five, despite what many might tell you. 

Should you invest your time and money in gaining a Governance Qualification?

Long-time readers of my articles will know that gaining a board appointment is a very competitive process, with Chairs wanting to appoint the ‘perfect’ board member. I have also noticed that having a formal Governance Qualification is becoming more and more common with the people I work with – but it is still not a ‘must have’ for board candidates.

You should consider gaining a governance qualification to be a bit like gaining an MBA. It is good to do. It is going to make you more effective in your role. The cohort you undertake the training with will likely be of value from a networking perspective. You will learn things you don’t know and have reconfirmed things you do. But, alone that qualification is unlikely to get you appointed. 

Having said that, I think there  are six reasons why a governance qualification is worth the investment:

  1. It demonstrates your commitment to serving on a board and being a strong NED – it tells the decision-makers you are serious.
  2. It is likely to teach you something new – regardless of your board experience.
  3. It will formalise what you may already know – offering greater gravitas.
  4. It may not get you appointed alone, but it will make you a more appointable candidate – separating you from others who don’t have governance qualifications.
  5. You may access a network of aspiring and experienced board members through the training itself – these can be leveraged.
  6. Your qualification can support your personal brand and non-executive board pitch – it is a nice way to finish.

A governance qualification from a recruiter’s aspect

On a personal note, I look for people with a governance qualification when recruiting for a board role. It clearly highlights their interest and commitment to be an effective board director. I also know how the chair thinks and feels about appointing a new board member. Having a governance qualification often de-risks your appointment, in my eyes and the chair’s. However, to be clear, a governance qualification without the requisite experience or skills carries little weight in a competitive selection process. 

For those with the right skills and experience, grading and shortlisting board candidates can make a difference. Depending on the essential and desired selection criteria for the role, having a governance qualification can be the difference between your board application being graded as an “A” or a “B”. When allocating the final board interview slot, it can be the case that a governance qualification is the only thing that sets two candidates apart.

In summary

Few, if any, of the people I speak with who have a governance qualification believe it alone has gained them a board appointment. Ask around, and you will find the same response. So, essentially, a governance qualification is not required to get a board appointment. However, if you are serious about developing a board career, you should consider training in this field because it could be the thing that separates you from your competitors, plus it makes you a better director.

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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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