No board experience? Use your executive experience to get a board appointment

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It is not just those with existing board experience or past CEOs who get appointed to boards. A vast number of skills and levels of experience are valued at board level. Not every organisation is going to value every skill set and some organisations will require more board experience than others. 

The key to any successful appointment begins by ensuring you balance your aspirations against the reality of your appointment.

That is, ensuring that the sort of board you want to be appointed to will actually appoint you. If you can do this then you stand a far greater chance of becoming a successful Non-Executive Director (NED). This is an important point for you to grasp and often is the thing that makes the difference between a smooth transition and one that is frustrating and ultimately unsuccessful.

No Board Experience? What sort of organisation is going to appoint you to their board?

The first thing to do is to clearly define what your primary skill set is. Many are tempted to state that they offer any number of highly transferable skills. They may do, but by stating this you water down your pitch. So, it is of paramount importance for you to be clear on the primary skill you offer a board – whether it be finance, legal, HR, Change, IT, industry experience or something else. You need to know.

The next thing to do is to articulate why your skill set is valuable at board level – not as an executive. As you can imagine, this pitch is very different to your executive pitch and must address how you can solve the board level concerns or challenges that an organisation faces. It can be surprisingly easy to do but does take some thinking. By way of some guidance consider answering the following statement:

‘At board level what I do is…. ‘

As an example, let’s say you are a HR executive without any board experience. You are good at what you do but are unsure what value you would add to a board? I would hazard a guess that at board level you help organisations manage risk – the greatest of which is people. Further, by ensuring an organisation has people strategies in place and they are properly implemented the organisation will be more effective which means they will be more profitable or be more efficient. As such, appointing you as a NED will result in a  clear return on investment (ROI) on their investment in you.

This same process should be taken regardless of your executive skill-set. Think about what would happen if someone like you with your skills is not on the board. What are the risks that an organisation exposes itself to with this omission? Conversely, what are the benefits that could be realised by appointing someone like you?

Think about what organisation is going to value that skill set.

Of course, not every organisation will value, or get value from every skill set. So you need to think carefully about which organisations will value your skills. You can read about how to define these organisations (your targets) here but the most obvious place to begin is by focusing on your current and past executive experience and what causes you are passionate about and then defining these organisations and who their competitors, stakeholders, clients are or similar organisations. 

By doing these exercises you will be able to quickly define a comprehensive list of organisations that you both want and can be appointed to.

If you want a board appointment and have little or no existing board experience the question should not be

‘Can I add value at board level?’ but rather ‘What is my value?’ and ‘Who will value it?’ by answering these two questions you will stop wasting time, unlock board opportunities you have only dreamed of and are likely to be appointed over your peers.

This is what we help our members do – regardless of the scope or scale of their experience or aspirations – contact us if you would like to arrange a time to speak.

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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