Personal research can set you apart from ALL the other candidates

Personal research can set you apart from ALL the other candidates
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In my last article, I wrote about how to conduct online research. In this article, I want to push you further. Indeed, you may read this and think I am suggesting too much. However, if you really want to get appointed, then what I am recommending is not something that should be overlooked because it is game-changing in terms of your appointability.

So, what does this in-person research entail? Despite its somewhat bland title, ‘Personal Research’ is actually really exciting and, when done properly, will infiltrate every aspect of your board search process and truly dare them not to appoint you.

Before I begin, a quick caveat

The level of research I recommend here might make you a little uncomfortable, as for many it will be out of your comfort zone. However, out of your comfort zone is where many board roles reside – so it is important to push yourself! Others might see what I recommend as being a ‘bit over the top’. I get that – it is a lot of work – but gaining a board appointment is a highly competitive exercise which, if you are serious about it, you need to put serious effort into achieving.

Online research

Everyone expects you to do online research. Most applicants will at least view information about the company that is available on the internet twice during their board application process. The power of your online research should not be underestimated, but it will not differentiate you from any other applicant. Online or desk-based research should be treated as a launchpad for more research – and this is where the hard work begins. This is where the personal research you do will set you apart from all the other candidates lining up for the same role.

I know it is a boring title but it belies information that should transform the way you go about researching your board application in preparation for an interview, a written application or even an ‘informal’ chat with a Chair.

In-person research is valuable

In-Person Research is a term I use to describe the research and information you gather in ways other than using online resources. This means leaving your computer and experiencing in person what the organisation does. Your personal research is what will separate you from other applicants and really begin to dare them not to appoint you.

Why do it?

Few do it: One of the reasons it is so effective is because so few candidates do it. It demonstrates a proactive approach to gaining an understanding of the organisation and its needs.

It de-risks your appointment: This level of research will begin to demonstrate to the Chair that you won’t be a risk to the board’s fragile ecosystem since your intelligence and proactive problem-solving attitude can be utilized to the advantage of the board and the organisation it operates in.

It demonstrates your connectedness: As a board recruiter, I have seen time and time again that a favourite or known candidate with deep personal connections to the board, who was expected to be appointed, was upstaged by an unknown candidate because of the amount of personal research conducted by that candidate.

It makes you a stronger candidate: Add this to a candidate’s ability to meet the basic selection criteria and you have a Chair satisfied that you are the perfect candidate for the role.

Inperson research is different

I group personal research into 2 activities:

  1. Engaging – this includes visiting, experiencing, mystery shopping, reading reviews and contributing
  2. Connecting – developing relationships with people connected to, or familiar with, the organisation – other NEDs in particular

Believe me, doing personal research will quickly spread the word in the industry that you are a proactive, intelligent and motivated individual. There is no end to the advantages you could gain from these interactions. The worst that can happen is that you gain a better reputation and the best thing is that you could stumble upon other board opportunities.


Some people worry about doing this level of research, afraid that they will be seen as abusing the application process or that people will be talking about them. This a valid concern – you certainly do not want to be seen to be unfairly influencing the appointment decision. However, this can be overcome if you approach those you speak with, with a clear desire to inform yourself about the role/organisation rather than seeking to influence the decision-making process. If you are genuine about this, you will be overwhelmed with support. Furthermore, getting people to talk about you is a positive during the board application process. You want to be in front of mind, as it gives you an advantage during the shortlisting and interview stages and will make you a known quantity and less of a perceived risk to the Chair.


Want to separate yourself from your competitors? Getting into interviews but not getting appointed? Not getting past the paper application stage? Of all the information I can offer you, this is the most important. Taking my advice here will almost inevitably separate you from your competitors and dramatically increase the chances of your appointment. No matter what the organisation is that you are pitching for, it is all about ‘In-Person’ Research.

Of course, there is no silver bullet when it comes to gaining a board appointment, so you need to do everything you can to separate yourself from your competitors. Proper Online and In-Person Research goes a long way to do this. Not least of which, I can almost guarantee that your competitors will not go to this level of effort.

Learning how to complete thorough online research and apply the findings is just one of the training module included in our Executive Membership package. Members complete individual training modules when and where it suits them.

⇒ Learn More about our Executive Membership 

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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