Many think that the only thing that matters in a board selection process is that a candidate has the relevant skills to contribute to the board. But that’s rarely the only aspect boards look at when searching for the right candidate. As competition is fierce for board positions organisations can afford to pick through the applications of very good candidates to find their perfect appointment.
What does it take to get on a board?
When trying to get on a board, there are four things you need to consider. Think about them carefully as you contemplate which board seat you want to apply for and why you would want to serve on that specific board. The four fundamentals are:
- Boards are focused on the future – they are looking three to five years forward for the skills they’ll need to help drive success. For this reason it is not surprising that most board searches still focus on experienced NED’s, CEO’s (which is what significant ASX companies often want) or business unit heads (which smaller ASX or private companies will often accept).
Whatever the title, the key is that person has a track record of making good decisions and can demonstrate their success.
- The majority of directors landed on boards because they knew an influential person, such as another director, who recommended them. If you don’t know one you should make every effort to develop these sorts of roles. Be strategic in identifying companies on whose boards you would like to serve. Then make it your mission to get to know those directors. You also need to understand who else is on the board and be comfortable that you would fit with the culture and values.
- Board search firms will sometimes reach out to CEO’s and directors to ask for the name of the best director on their board and why that person provides the most value. So, if you want to be recommended for a board position then you need to ensure that the contribution you make in an executive capacity is valued and demonstrated.
- If you’re looking for a board seat, you need to be able to articulate where you could add value. This often means focusing on the two or three industries where you believe your skills would be a great fit and clearly stating what it is that you can offer – over and above – others that might be applying. If you can not do this then you might reconsider whether this is the right board for you.
Of course there is one other thing need to do to stand out from others who seek to be chosen for that board position that you deserve – don’t be part of the pack. As a past headhunter and executive recruiter my advice to potential candidates looking for their next promotion or to sit on a board was to ‘avoid people like me’. By that I meant application processes managed by a third party where they would have to compete against, sometimes hundreds of others, for the role they wanted. Instead, I strongly recommending directly approaching the organisations that you want to sit on the board of with a compelling argument as to what value you can add.
Of course, in your search for board opportunities, you will undoubtedly come across adverts of, or headhunters / executive search firms who have, board roles that you are interested in so you need to know how to work effectively with those advertising opportunities. The Board Appointments Master Class spends quite a bit of time on this subject or you can wait to read further articles on the subject in the near future.
Beyond being good at what you do, networking appropriately, being clear on what you offer a board and understanding what a board is likely to want from a successful candidate you should keep an eye out for advertised vacancies and speak to recruiters about their opportunities. Board Direction advertise over 700 board vacancies each year and we can help you ‘dare them not to appoint you‘. Register here: Board Direction.
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. He has been described as Australia’s leading board recruitment expert, is a published author, a regular speaker on the board appointment process and runs Board Search Masterclasses across Australia. He is one of Australia’s Top 10 LinkedIn users with over 20,000 connections. Email: