To gain a board appointment you must separate yourself from your competitors – of which there are many. But how do you do that? OVERWHELMINGLY the best way to do this, and I have seen it happen time and time again, is by conducting in-depth research.
The problem is the vast majority of candidates don’t know how or are too lazy to do it. In both cases not doing the level of research required will DRASTICALLY reduce your chance of being appointed. Why? Primarily because if you do the same level of research (or none at all) you will be doing exactly what everybody else is doing and therefore will not differentiate yourself or dare them not to appoint you?
Most will read this and think – ‘yes I get that but my research is fine’. Indeed it might be. However, 95% of the candidate applications I see (if not more) don’t do ANYWHERE NEAR the level or detail of research I recommend.
So, even if you think you are capable in this space, today’s article on conducting ‘online research’ and next week’s article on conducting ‘personal research’ are both critical reading. Both could make the difference between receiving a ‘Thank you for your application. We regret to inform you….’ response to your application OR an ‘It is with great pleasure that …’ response.
Why I think online research is essential to a successful board search
Every stand-out application I have ever come across started with proper research – online research is an important part of the research you have to undertake before applying to a board.
This research involves much more than merely clicking through the organisation’s website. But I find that many don’t understand what else they can do to properly research the company and the specific role. So, as a general rule, even the most basic research for a role is rarely done more than once during an application process and even more rarely is it done well. In my estimation, less than 5% of candidates do the kind of research that will really dare them not to appoint you. However, those that I have seen do this level of research, have invariably found themselves in the final mix for a board appointment.
This should be good news for you. It means that, if you put in the hard yards and do your research the way I suggest, you will soon differentiate yourself from competing candidates and systematically position yourself strongly for any appointment you choose to focus on.
This level of research is by far the most important element of any application or job hunting process. Though, conversely, probably the most under-utilised and the most difficult element to motivate yourself to undertake. However, doing so will assist you to put in a better and more informed application that will pay dividends and dramatically increase your chances of being appointed.
The research you do should both be done online and in person. In this article, I want to focus only on online research.
What Type of Online Research?
This is the type of research that everyone expects you to do – and most applicants will at least view information about the company that is available on the internet twice during their board application process. It is often initially done when a board opportunity is first noticed and again immediately before an interview.
Although this sort of research is not useless, it will not differentiate you from any other applicant. You might as well do no research at all if this is the approach you are going to take, as it will not dare them not to appoint you, which is the whole point of your application or when developing personal connections.
Specifically, during the online portion of your research, you should start by researching the employer. You should strive to find answers to the following questions:
- What makes this company different? What are their unique selling points and what differentiates them from their competitors?
- What products and services do they offer?
- Who are their clients/stakeholders?
- Where are they based and where do they do business? Include in this the company size, location and business catchment area.
Research the Board:
- Who are the board members, the Chair and past board members?
- What are their values and ethos; do they fit with your approach?
Research the role itself:
- What are the typical activities and the skills required of board members?
- What skills gaps are missing on the Board?
- Why is there currently a vacancy in the first place?
Research the macro environment:
- Focus on discovering the organisations competitors and the macro-economic conditions that affect them. This will guide you in finding the organisation’s pain points.
- Consider political and regulatory issues that may affect the business now and in the future.
Your online research points as listed above is the absolute minimum amount you should do. You can conduct much of it by simply reading the organisation’s website, annual reports, investor reports and competitor’s websites.
In your online research, don’t just focus on the information the organisation provides. Use social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram to see what others have been saying about the organisation, its products and services, etc. You should also refer to Google for mentions of the company and board members online and conclude your online research with peak industry body- and competitors’ websites.
Don’t stop here with your research, as you will be putting yourself in the middle of the pack of prospective board candidates. To change this, you will need to focus on what I call personal research. You can read more about the personal research you need to do in another article.
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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. 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 28,000 connections. Email: