We have looked over the last few articles at how your connections can get you appointed. After all, personal connections account for 65% of all board appointments. On the other hand, statistically, over 15% of people are appointed directly by organisations to their own boards. So you should not think that the direct approach is a waste of your valuable time.
Why is the direct approach a good idea?
Why is this the case? When approaching an organisation with a board proposition directly, you won’t be one of hundreds applying for a role. You will instead likely be the only one considered and your chances of success will improve dramatically.
Indeed, there are directors who make a board career by offering their help to organisations that they know they can impress and provide value to.
The principles for taking the direct approach to getting a board appointment is very much the same to the approach you will take when developing personal connections.
Who to approach and how to impress
Before you do anything like calling or introducing yourself to the organisation you should:
1. With the direct approach, you have to be well researched
Before you make any move to contact the organisation directly, be well researched and ready to pounce any opportunity available. You should undertake both desk based and personal research. You only have one chance to impress and you will do it best by doing proper research.
This means that you need to be clear about what it is you can offer and be clear of your USP – your unique selling point – and why you have approached them in the first place. For example, it could be you have noticed a vacancy on the board or a gap in the skills matrix of the board that you could fill. Again, this will come through your research.
2. Use your personal connections when making a direct approach
Regardless of whether they are a weak or strong tie, a personal connection can take you a long way when convincing a Chair to appoint you. Here you should use your potential direct approach as an excuse to speak to people in and around the board you want to sit on. Leverage your potential application to get a sense from others of what the board does, what others think of them and work out if you have any mutual connections.
Indeed, mutual connections are powerful – they transform you from a cold applicant to a warm applicant. You need to work hard to become a warm applicant, as they are more likely to be appointed. If you don’t know anyone, then you should consider introducing yourself to connectors or other weak ties that you can impress.
A direct approach should be a great excuse to connect with people who could influence the outcome and get you onto the board. Of course, your motivation should not blatantly be to get the role you want. Instead, it should be to make yourself known – and liked – so pitch yourself as someone that can help, not as someone who needs a board role!
Once you have done all the desk and personal research you need to, you should contact the organisation directly. The question is obviously whom you should approach. Should you approach the Chair or the CEO?
In most cases, it should be the Chair, as sooner or later you are going to have to speak with them and they will be the ultimate decision maker. In other cases, particularly if the organisation does not have an active or known board, the CEO will be most appropriate.
LinkedIn can be a great way to find and introduce yourself to the right person. Further, it should also provide some comfort around your credentials, as they can easily research you.
The introduction itself will work much the same as your introduction via LinkedIn. It should utilise a clear statement of what you do and how you can help, as well as having a clear call to action in its summary. If you do this effectively, I would expect you to get a 90% chance of at least meeting for coffee.
Of course, at the end of all of this there just might not be an opportunity for you on the board. In that case, rather than hanging your head, consider how else you can help. Perhaps they need some executive work done that you can help with. If this is the case, then it is paramount that you try to help. This will keep you in the conversation and as new board opportunities arise, you will be best placed to not only know about them but also be appointed.
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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: [email protected]