Taking the Direct Approach to gain a Board Appointment

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I have just written 5 separate articles on the importance of developing and leveraging the right personal connections for gaining a board appointment. In this article, I want to consider the next most likely way you will gain a board appointment, that is by directly approaching an organisation. Statistically, 15% of people are appointed to a board by this direct approach. However, you need to know how to do this authentically and legitimately and in a way that generates board opportunities.

Why is the Direct Approach so successful in gaining a Board Appointment?

In the first place, you need to know that of 50% of Australian organisations with boards recruited a board member in the last 12 months, only 10-20% advertised this vacancy or used a recruiter. That means that there are thousands and thousands of unadvertised opportunities out there waiting to be found. Furthermore, many of these organisations will have standing vacancies that they will rarely advertise, but they are on the lookout for the right proactive individual.

By directly approaching an organisation, you are positioning yourself to fill these vacancies. More importantly, though, you won’t be one of the hundreds applying for that role. You will instead likely be the only one being considered. This means that your chances of success improve dramatically, not least of which because your skills and experience (and proactiveness) won’t be compared against other candidates – making these qualities stand out further.

There is another important reason why this approach works. That is that you are making it easy for the organisation to make the appointment. Those who have led any sort of recruitment process will know that it is time-consuming, laborious and resource-intensive. In other words, it is a pain in the a** and something that many organisations want to avoid if they can. By proactively approaching an organisation and making it easy for them to appoint you, you will be helping them avoid a recruitment process they really don’t want to go through or spend money on.

When you get the Direct Approach right, you will find it surprisingly effective. So how do you do it?

The direct approach principles you should apply are very much the same as the approach you should take when developing personal connections. It must begin first by defining the organisations that you both want and can be appointed to – your target list. 

Once you have your targets in place the next step is to prepare for your approach. However, before you do anything like calling or introducing yourself to the organisation you should:

1. Be well researched

Stumping up to an organisation that doesn’t know you, and you don’t know enough about, is a short route to disappointment. So you need to prepare – that means undertaking both desk-based and personal research. You only have one chance to impress and you will do it best by doing proper research. This sort of research will provide you with information that others don’t have – specifically:

  • insights into the business
  • references to people that the organisation are familiar
  • demonstrate engagement with the business

2. Have a well-defined pitch

You must then be able to define your value to that organisation. 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. 

3. Articulate how you can help

Too many people at this point use their newly acquired knowledge to point out to the chair/principle, the challenges their business faces. This won’t work. They already know what they are. Instead, you must offer solutions and take a “how you can help approach”.

4. Approach the right person

In most cases, it should be the Chair because, as the ultimate decision-maker, sooner or later you are going to have to speak with them. In other cases, particularly if the organisation does not have an active or known board, the CEO will be most appropriate.

5. What to say & how

Most initial introductions will occur via LinkedIn or email. In these cases, use a summary of your research, what you have discovered and the people you have spoken to, to start your introduction. Then provide a summary of your background and your board pitch. Then, finally, define how specifically you might be able to help and offer the opportunity to speak further.  

How we can help

Mastering the direct approach and establishing an extensive target list is something the was cover extensively in our Board Appointment Traning Series. The 18-module online training series is exclusive to our Executive Members.

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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