The career path of an executive is often a nonlinear journey to its apex. From entry level positions right out of college to mid-management roles, ex-pat assignments, and years of focusing on building skills for the C-suite, once you’ve achieved and mastered the that goal, what comes next?
Often the next step in a successful executive career is pursuing a board of directors seat. Having worked closely with board members as a company leader, executives are usually well-accustomed to their roles and responsibilities. For executive clients interested in attaining a board seat for the first time, the challenge though, is often how to land it. The selection and vetting process for these coveted and critical seats can be protracted and often grueling, so I recommend that individuals take the time to create a comprehensive strategy up front to improve the quality of their search.
While the work done and contribution of the different type of boards (Public/Corporate, Private/Private Equity, Non-Profit, or Advisory) may vary, creating the foundation for search success is similar.
As in any endeavor, having previous experience for the opportunity you seek is ideal, but not always the reality. When working with executives on their first board campaign, I guide them to clearly define their reasons for wanting to make this move. The reasons I hear most often are to leverage their experience to assist other organizations, expand their circle of influence and professional networks, and to support initiatives that are meaningful to them.
Outlining a strategy for a successful board search
Determine your target industry/company. The best match for candidate and board is one where your skills, experience, and values are aligned with their need. Consider what company you would like to serve in a board capacity based on its mission, its vision, and where your strength in contribution lies.
Do your research. Read the annual proxy statements of your target companies and research backgrounds of existing board members on LinkedIn. Knowledge is power only to the extent you can use that information and apply it to enhance the effectiveness of your search.
Learn as much as you can about what to expect on your journey to landing a board seat. Search a wide range of board director-level publications, posts, blogs, expert videos, and books and read the different perspectives. There are many authored books on this topic and two that I share with my board seeking clients are Earn Your Seat on a Corporate Board by Jill Griffin (2016, Jill Griffin Books) and Into the Boardroom by D.K. Light and K.S. Pushor (2016, Beaver’s Pond Press). These books cover a broad spectrum of topics for board seat seekers, from offering a readiness assessment to interviewing preparation, to outlining how the board member selection process works and much more.
Build and leverage a strong network of support and supporters. Networking is still the #1 way your name will get placed in front of decision-makers for a board role. Make everyone you know aware that you are seeking a board seat, the industry or company you are targeting, and bring people into your network that believe in you and can advocate on your behalf.
Create a résumé/CV with the right focus. An executive résumé/CV should always be focused on accomplishments and value-added highlights of your career. For a board résumé/CV, the key is to demonstrate how those past accomplishments will add value as a board member. Clearly identify your specialty and align your contributions to meet the needs of your target organization or industry.
Update and optimize your LinkedIn profile. A strong LinkedIn profile optimized with board-focused competencies and keywords, along with an engaging and clear message about your board goal, will help attract the attention of recruiters and those that can help you in your search. With over 500M members worldwide, to neglect your profile on this platform is to leave potential opportunities on the table.
Cultivate relationships with recruiters. Most board searches are conducted through recruiters so they can be a valuable asset in your search. When reaching out to connect with them, a great way to build trust is to offer to introduce them to other candidates for their open search assignments. Remember relationships with recruiters are a two-way street. Ask what type of people they are looking for to fill current search opportunities and be on the look out for ways to help them achieve their goals.
Consider joining board organizations and executive career management sites. Organizations like BoardProspects, NACD (National Association of Corporate Directors), and WCD (Women Corporate Directors) can provide education, information, and linkage to recruiters or board sponsors. Executive career management sites like BlueSteps and ExecuNet make your profile available to specialty board recruiters across the globe. All of these organizations charge a membership fee, so vet them carefully to see which ones will provide you the best value.
Finally, always give more than you expect to receive. Board service is a privilege and you can’t do it alone. Building the right strategy to land your first board seat is a learning experience. Be prepared to make an investment of time, energy, money, and service to lay the foundation for board seat success.