Six Things to Consider when Thinking about a Non-Executive Career

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The best advice I could give any individual wanting a board position or non-executive career is to start preparing immediately.  Many directors describe finding their first directorship as an arduous and time consuming process. So the biggest mistake many people make when retiring from executive duties, or individuals considering a portfolio career, is not starting the search process early enough.

There are 6 things that I recommend all aspiring directors consider

You have got to

  • manage your expectations;
  • understanding and being clear about what you have to offer;
  • develop personal connections;
  • understand how to get advice and use recruiters;
  • update your non executive CV/Resume and
  • write a strong cover letter.
  1. Manage your expectations: Many experienced but aspiring directors expect their first board role to be remunerated. These sorts of board roles are highly sought after and may involve competitive application processes.

Without demonstrable experience at board level, getting this type of role can be very challenging. Instead, consider applying for unpaid board positions in not for profit or smaller organisations. These roles are a terrific launch pad for larger, or paid, directorships in the future.

Alternatively, consider volunteering for an organisation that you are passionate about – your local sporting team or a charity you support. Not only does it allow you to contribute but it also demonstrates your passion for governance, your willingness to give your time.

Regardless whether the position is unpaid or not, it should never be treated as a stepping stone to something ‘better’ but rather as an opportunity to contribute and build your board skills. In fact, most established directors describe their small or unpaid directorships the most enjoyable part of their portfolio career.

  1. What do you have to offer? Understanding what it is you offer a board is absolutely essential. You should know and practice your ‘elevator pitch’ and be clear on the successes you have had and the experience you bring. More and more boards want not just your professional experience but access to your networks developed through your existing non executive or executive career. So again, being clear about what you bring to a board in this regard is key.

Additionally, boards are often just as interested in your passion for their organisation as your skill set so make sure you know why you want to apply. If you can’t think of a reason why you want to be a director for that company then perhaps it is worth reconsidering your application.

  1. Personal Connections & Networking:The appointment process for board or advisory panel roles in many cases is not dissimilar to that of any other appointment process. Many find that the majority of opportunities are never advertised and are filled by word of mouth or through existing relationships. Therefore, developing ‘personal connections’ is vital and should form the basis of any search process.

As a general rule I advise my clients that 30% of their time should be focused on developing and maintaining their own brand and personal connections. There are unlimited ways that this might occur but I find the most effective ways to develop and maintain your brand are:

  • actively using LinkedIn, twitter and/or a blog;
  • maintaining relationships with colleagues (past or present);
  • making mutually beneficial introductions between your connections;
  • writing articles in trade magazines etc or
  • presenting at conferences or attending conferences/training events.
  1. Getting advice and using executive recruiters: Executive recruiters or ‘headhunters’ are a great source of information and often have access to opportunities that you might not know about or are never advertised. Working effectively with them is key. You should endeavour to maintain frequent (though not annoying!) contact and strong relationship with these firms and their consultants so that you remain at the forefront of their minds should an appropriate vacancy become available.  Often they have mentoring or board coaching sessions available which can be invaluable.
  1. Your CV/Resume: Many people assume that their executive CV is appropriate for board applications. In most cases it is not. A number of key changes need to take place including:
  • Putting your non-executive, panel or committee experience before your executive experience
  • Demonstrating your success in strategic and governance environments (particularly if you are coming from an executive background)
  • Ensuring your profile statement reflects your non executive success, networks and governance experience rather than your executive or operational experience.

An experienced career advisor, non-executive recruiter or board consultant can help you create an effective CV/Resume.

  1. Cover letters: Applications for non executive roles are often more popular than executive roles so it is important to separate yourself from other applicants.  Writing a strong cover letter that articulates your passion for the role, what you would bring to the role (governance experience, skills & networks) and your passion for the company/organisation is a great way to begin.