Looking for a board appointment? Make an early start.

You are currently viewing Looking for a board appointment? Make an early start.

When should you start looking for a board appointment? Having helped thousands of people gain a board appointment, I know that starting the journey early is of critical importance. Waiting until the end of your executive career can have a devastating effect on your prospects.

At the beginning of each new year, I receive an influx of enquiries from individuals who have had time to think about where their careers are headed over the Christmas break and now have decided to develop a board career. In many cases, they have been thinking about this change and stepping up their attempts to get appointed, after much procrastination over the previous 12 months and often years of inaction.  

Many don’t know how to get a board appointed or where to start

Our conversations often focus on their lack of success, lack of structure, and them taking a reactive approach to the search for a board appointment rather than a proactive one. 

The new year is a great time to start fresh: to double down on making your board career a reality and make changes that will facilitate this. Unfortunately, those changes are often forgotten as family and social pressures on top of a busy executive job leave little time to consider anything more than managing the status quo – to the detriment of your career, retirement or ambitions.

As such, it is of utmost importance that you put both achievable and sustainable practices in place to ensure that you are able to persevere and get appointed.

I recommend you do this by focusing on three elements…

1. Start Early when developing a board career

Successful Non-Executives Directors (NEDs) start their board appointment journey early in their careers because they recognise it takes time to build the experience and to get appointed. For this reason, they spend a good deal of time building their networks., Further, they are also clear as to what their value is at board level and the specific organisations they are targeting. These last two points are important to understand as they provide structure for you moving forward. 

On the assumption that you are clear on what sort of organisation will appoint you and you have clarity on why you should be appointed to those boards, then you should focus on building networks in and around these organisations.

My previous Chairman (an exceptional headhunter/recruiter) used to advise executives considering a board appointment to consider spending up to 30% of their time(!) focusing on building or sustaining their own brand. Much of his advice was focused on ensuring that they maintained and grew their personal connections. This is what successful NEDs do when preparing for a board appointment. 

2. Tell People that you are looking for a board appointment

The next piece of advice I give anyone searching for a board appointment is simple, start telling people that you’re looking for a board appointment. If you don’t, then it is unlikely you will expose yourself to opportunities or will relegate yourself to a reactive (and highly competitive) search process. Taking this approach is both easy to do and sustainable. If you are considering a board appointment this year it is critical that you begin doing this immediately. You will be surprised how effective doing just this simple thing can be. In fact, if you do this, and when it works, send me an email to let me know!

3. Build Perseverance through a structure

Perseverance comes by having achievable and sustainable practices in place. It is also often reinforced by having some quick and ongoing wins. Maintaining your perseverance when life gets in the way can be challenging, so you must have a structure in place that supports your board aspirations. 

I have probably given this topic more thought than most and have developed a clear map for the journey to a successful appointment. It focuses on what I describe as the three Core Pillars for a board appointment – Aspirations, Articulation & Application. I have broken them down into a further nine segments – all of which have applicable actions stemming from them. This structure provides a clear route to a board appointment. This clarity makes persevering that much easier. Take a look at the structure I have developed below. 


The route to your first or a subsequent board appointment is threefold: 

  1. Be clear and list the organisation(s) you want and can be appointed to and why you should be appointed to them. 

  2. Tell people you are looking for a board appointment – in particular people you see rarely or infrequently. They are called your weak ties. 

  3. Persevere. Stick at it, this is a highly competitive process however the rewards that come with a board appointment – professional, financial, social, and personal – are well worth it.

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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