I have written before about using search firms to find a board appointment. That implies that you approach a recruitment firm to help you find a board role. But sometimes – especially if you tick all the boxes that are important to the Chair – a recruiter might call you about a vacancy that exists on a board. Since around 10% of all board appointments are made by search firms and recruiters, it’s important that you know what to do when a recruiter calls you.
In the course of finding a vacancy and being appointed to a board, you will probably have to work with an executive search firm and thus directly work with recruiters. For this reason, it’s important that you know how to impress a recruiter and be memorable – you want to ensure that you and your written application stand out.
You might know that I was, in a recent past life, an executive search consultant, also known as a headhunter or recruiter.
As you can imagine, a large part of this role was to select which applicants would be recommended to my client based on my knowledge of them and their paper applications. I did this in numerous ways and it is that insider knowledge of board recruitment that I want to share with you.
Over the past decade, I must have interviewed and spoken to well over 1000 potential NEDs and literally hundreds of Chairs. I have conservatively assessed 1000’s of applications. One assignment of mine had over 1000 non-executive applications alone – so I know what stands out and what doesn’t.
Receiving a call from a recruiter
If a headhunter calls you, then congratulations – you are on their radar. However, this does not mean that the job is yours – far from it. In fact, they might be calling you to get a recommendation for a more appropriate candidate!
However, on the assumption that they are calling you to discuss a potential board opportunity that you might be interested in, then your first response is to listen to what they have to say. Whilst it can be tempting to ask a lot of questions then and there, you should resist and tell them you will call them back – politely, of course. Be prepared to say something like:
‘Thank you for the call. I am potentially interested but I need to do some more research and speak to some colleagues about this opportunity before I commit to an application. What is the closing date for applications?’
Why should you call the recruiter back?
You are potentially going to enter into a competitive process and you only have one chance to separate yourself from your competitors. You are unlikely to be able to do that upon just hearing about an opportunity. No one has lost out on a board opportunity because they didn’t say then and there that they were interested. Moreover, while they did call you and are interested in having you apply, they are also doing the same to maybe dozens of other candidates. So, once again, standing out from the rest of the applicants is crucial to your successful appointment.
First research, then call
After politely stating that you will call them back, you need to commence your research – both desk and personal. That means researching the board and the organisation in detail and doing some ‘mystery shopping’. It also means speaking to people connected to or familiar with the organisation that is advertising, including board members of these sorts of organisations.
Once you have done your research – over a couple of days – then call the recruiter back.
Here you will have one of two responses; either, “no, not for me” or “yes, tell me more.”
Should your response be no, then you should try to be helpful and recommend others who might be interested in the position. It is a good habit to get into and will endear you to the recruiter who, in the future, may contact you about similar roles.
If your response is “yes, tell me more,” then you should begin the conversation in a way that is likely to impress and provide confidence for the recruiter so he/she can wholeheartedly recommend you to their client.
It is important during this call for you to be able to articulate:
- What you offer – your unique selling point and how it relates to your actions on the Board and
- What the client requires from you as a potential board member.
What they need by way of an application, what the timings are and what other information they can provide that isn’t publicly available.
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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 29,000 connections. Email: