What Board should I apply for?

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‘What sort of board role can I be appointed to?’ is a question that I get asked frequently.

The question of what board to apply to is natural in the beginning of one’s board career but, I think, it equally does not bode well for the potential success of a board candidate in finding the ‘right board’ for them. I say this because the question can demonstrate a lack of understanding about what an individual might offer an organisation at board level. However more worrying still, is that it evidences a questionable underlying motivation for wanting to sit on a board in the first place.

While this question seems an obvious questions to ask, it can also highlight a lack of self awareness or an mis-understanding of what boards look for in successful board candidates. As a result, when I am asked this question I often respond with

What sort of board would you realistically appoint yourself to?’ 

I am not trying to be off hand or provide a glib response, instead I want to start a conversation about board aspirations. I take this approach because answering this question honestly not only provides some clear direction but also goes some way to ensure your expectations about future board appointments are in check.  The end result being a far more enjoyable and profitable board journey.

Let me explain further by way of a case study.

What Board Could My Client Realistically Apply To?

I recently counselled a client who had run a significant sized family owned food manufacturing business. He was convinced that he could have an effective role to play on a board of one of the major supermarkets.

He may have been able to contribute but he was never going to have the opportunity to do so because he was never going to be appointed to the board. Why not? Primarily because he was unwilling to accept, or he did not have the self-awareness to recognize, that he was not appropriately qualified, well enough connected or have enough experience to gain this sort of board appointment.

This approach unfortunately had three further significantly negative impacts

  1. He became disgruntled with his board search very quickly. He deemed other people to be the stumbling blocks for his lack of board opportunities. He quickly gave up his search.
  2. His reputation suffered. Others recognized that his arrogance/lack of self awareness in believing that he could, and should, sit on any board of his choice made him an unsuitable candidate.
  3. His unrealistic aspirations translated to a personal reputational risk for those he met. As such, no new introductions were forthcoming, despite the fact that those he met could have helped him on his journey.

The major issue here was not so much his unrealistic aspirations but rather his desire to be a board member. He was not passionate about serving – he just wanted to be on a board.

Let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with having big, bold aspirations for your board career. However, being realistic about your experience and having realistic aspirations as to what kind of board you can be appointed to will make a significant difference to the success of your journey.


A large part of a successful board career is balancing your aspirations with the realities. You can do this in any number of ways but crafting a Board Ready CV is a good place to begin. Further, getting some help in articulating your contribution at board level in the  all-important board interview is also key.

So, if you still are not sure about which board you should apply for or where your skills are best utilised, or you are just not sure where to begin take a look at the Board Career Services we provide – in particular the Board Search Masterclass. Everything we do is entirely designed to help you ‘dare them not to appoint you‘.

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