How to land a board role

A 5-step guide to securing your ideal non-executive role

At Leadership Advisor Group we have many conversations with executives who want to find their first board role and with non-executives who want to get an additional board role. Here’s a few tips on what to do:

1. You’re unique! Identify what makes you, you!

Many executives looking for a board role start on the wrong foot, believing many years of C-level experience automatically make an obvious fit for a board role. It will make you classified, but not different. If you, for instance, are a CFO who has worked for a private equity-owned company and has overseen an operation in a significant emerging market, your uniqueness will not be your CFO background. All companies have a CFO. What will make you stand out is your combined experience. Hence, it will be paramount that you identify, spell out, and list what makes you different.

2. Make yourself visible

The headhunters cannot find you if you are not visible. That is why you need to have an updated, self-explanatory Linkedin profile. Ensure it provides a good understanding of your career in terms of functional-, geographical-, industry- and ownership structure experience. Your span of control in terms of budgets and people will also be relevant. A good guideline is that your experience should be easy to understand, even for someone located on a continent in the opposite place of the world and in a very different industry.

3. Expand and leverage your professional network

If you think experienced non-executives are quickly served new board opportunities, think again. Even very experienced board professionals need to work for it and market themselves. While large, publicly listed companies generally use a formal professional search process, smaller and midsized companies might rely on personal networks. So be sure to contact relevant headhunters and let your professional network know you are available and ready to join a board. To save time, find out which search firms get most of the relevant board search assignments. A general guideline is to go to one of the world’s big five recruitment firms (Egon Zehnder, Korn Ferry, Russel Reynolds, Heidrick & Struggles, and Spencer Stuart) or a niche, boutique firm that only recruits for board roles (like Leadership Advisor Group), and not for executive positions.Moreover, remember that your profile might be even more relevant abroad than for a board in your home country, and your compensation might be significantly higher.

4. Aim for a realistic board role

It is not unusual that we meet executives with an unrealistic view of what kind of board role they will be relevant for. First, it usually takes several years of experience as a non-executive member before you will be perceived as appropriate for a Chair- or a Committee Chair role. Second, when recruiters look for candidates to fill a board role, the starting point will be to look for someone with experience from a company of the same size and geographical span as the company in question. This means that you will be perceived as a less relevant candidate if your experience is from a more limited geographical area and with a P&L responsibility much smaller than the company's turnover. Hence, look for companies or organizations that match your track record regarding responsibility.

5. Prepare well for the interview

This should go without saying (but we know that is not always the case): when invited for an interview, do your homework and prepare well. Study the company's performance, board members, leadership team, and others who will interview you. What do you have to offer this company? What do you think it needs? What are their challenges? Create a clear storyline relating to your findings. Articulate what you can bring to the table and why you would like to join. Relate your experiences to the company situation and remember also to provide a flavor of your personal strengths. Additionally, do your due diligence to ensure you are not entering a dysfunctional board, a profoundly distressed company, or similar without knowing. Not all board roles are worth your time, energy, and reputation.

Here’s an extra tip for you

The prime time for board recruitment occurs during the final five months leading up to a company's annual general meeting (AGM). Since many companies align their financial calendar with the regular calendar year, AGMs typically take place between February and April. Consequently, the peak period for board recruitments falls between October and February. In simpler terms, we are currently in the midst of the busiest recruitment season!

Time to act! Go and get it, we’re with you

Somewhere out there, the right board role for you is awaiting. Now you know the five key steps to get it. Turn them into action. If you wish to receive further personal guidance on navigating this route and accessing our network, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us! We're here to help you turn your aspirations into a reality.

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