How to research for a board application – transcript of webinar


Transcript of Research board applications webinar. The purpose of this video is to help those of you who are interested in finding a board or non-executive role and need some guidance in how research in preparation for a board application.

This is one of a number of clips designed to aid you in the non-executive application process and dovetails with our Board Cover Letter writing webinar.  This clip is brought you to you by Board Diversity ( Board Diversity was created in the belief that diverse boards make better decisions and that, as an individual looking to build a portfolio career or an aspiring board director, finding a non-executive role should not be difficult.

To this end Board Diversity equips members you to develop a board career through practical services (like Board Access – a job board exclusively advertising hundreds of non-executive vacancies) and exclusive networking groups.


Research is by far the most important element of any application or board role hunting process. Though, conversely, probably the most under-utilised and also the most difficult thing to motivate yourself to undertake – it is even harder to do well. However, I guarantee that if you do this properly you will never regret it.

Most people consider research something desk based and done primarily online and it is done only twice (at best) in an application or job hunting process. Once when they see the job advertised, and secondly before an interview. Taking this approach will not differentiate you from any other candidate which is, of course, the whole point of your application process – to dare them not to see you! Online & desk based research should only be undertaken as a basis for more indepth work. The research that is most effective can only be gained when you leave your desk or by speaking to people directly.

In my experience conducting the following will go a long way to separate you from other applicants and dramatically increase your chance of being appointed.


Firstly, I recommend that you visit the organisation personally to get a feel for the culture and set up and size. See if you can find someone you know who knows the organisation ask them whether they know what they think of the organisation,  chief executive or board?’ . If appropriate take them into your confidence and ask them to introduce you to someone internally. Alternatively, speak with a competitor and ask them what they think of the organisations services/products, and their strengths and weaknesses.

I always use my job applications as an excuse to speak with my peers or better still to the peers of the person who might employ me. A particularly effective approach is, once known, to set up a telephone call, and tell them that you are thinking of applying for a board role at X and as they have been in the sector for a while and that you were hoping that they might be able to provide a perspective on what they do. Ask if they could spare five minutes to provide some insights?’

This can be a daunting approach for some but you will have achieved a couple of things by doing it: you will have generated or regenerated a valuable connection  and you will have gained an invaluable insight into the business.

Speaking to the person handling the application process is essential so, Only at this point, after you have done your research, should you approach the contact you have for the position.

Never just ask ‘Can you tell me about the job?’ instead try ‘Hello, I would like to speak to you about the role X. I have been to the site, spoken to others who work there and some of their competitors. If I tell you a little about my background could you tell me if it is this the sort of experience you are looking for?’ This is a powerful approach and will ensure that you stand out from other applicants. This is obviously an incredibly important thing to do when working through a recruiter and especially so when dealing directly with the company.

At this end of this process, I know, having done it myself, that you will have the information you need to complete an application that stands out. You will know: what is important to the company; what the role demands; what it is like working there; how the company functions; what their products and services are and who their clients are; Who are their competitors; and much more.

Of all the hundreds of non-executive applications I have received in my time as an executive  recruiter less than 5% of applicants have ever gone to the lengths I have described above. However, those that have almost always get the job.

At this juncture, I should say that many people worry about doing this level of research. Either they feel they are abusing the application process or are worried about what might be said about them without their permission. The first point is a valid one. You certainly do not want to be seen to be unfairly influencing the decision but this can be overcome if you approach all contacts with a clear desire to inform yourself about the role/organisation rather than seeking to influence decision making process.

The second point should not concern you if you do your research properly – if you represent yourself well then you will be represented well. In fact, getting people to speak warmly about you is exactly what you want to happen. It gives you an advantage at the shortlisting stage and in interviews because you are likely to be a ‘known product’ and as such a much more attractive candidate.


I hope you found this webinar useful.  If you would like a hand writing your resume or cover letter please do contact me. Finally, and as I mentioned earlier, this is one of a number of clips designed to aid you in the non-executive application process – others include

  • How to write a non-executive resume
  • How to write a non-executive cover letter
  • How to develop personal connections
  • How to work with non-executive recruiters

To see them please visit and ‘open the door to the boardroom’.

Good luck


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