One of the most common questions I am asked as an Executive Search Partner that works with Boards and C-Suite is, “How do I get a seat on a Board of Directors?”
Often, it comes from senior executives looking at the next steps in their careers who assume that being appointed to a board will be quick and straightforward because they are so well-qualified. They are shocked when they have not been offered a Board role despite months of looking for that perfect position.
The reality is that even at the Board level, just as in an executive search, there are always several qualified applicants for the role – it is the fine-tuning that makes the match. Competition for Board seats can be intense. After all, these are sought-after positions that allow you to network with and learn from other outstanding leaders, deepen your corporate strategy experience, and provide some additional income.
Nevertheless, this rapidly changing world we live in makes it an excellent time to join a corporate Board. Companies are making a far greater effort to include leaders from under-represented groups and diversify the expertise they are bringing to the table, including sustainability, digital transformation, and diversity & inclusion.
So how do you maximize your chances of getting on your first corporate Board?
Start preparing early, and by early, I mean early!
The skills you need to join a Board are different from those you need to become a CEO.
Directors are there to give the company oversight, including managing risk and monitoring the company’s financials and leadership. They also contribute their knowledge and advice on strategy while leaving the decisions and day-to-day management to company executives.
The people who take on this role tend to have strategic mindsets and collaborative nature. They are likely to have a deep understanding of their industry and broad experience in company operations and decision-making.
For decades, you had an advantage if you had a financial background, executive experience, or prior board experience, and these are still very important today. However, Boards are now equally interested in candidates with knowledge of international politics, sustainability, national security, strategic development, information technology, and a range of other areas.
Building up these competencies can take years. I recommend looking at your CV and identifying gaps that could disadvantage you at least five years (Yes, really!) before you intend to join a Board and then look to develop your credentials strategically.
Does your alma mater (university) offer specific accredited courses on corporate governance? As an example, take classes for aspiring Board directors. There are also several specialist certifications in areas that are in demand, such as ESG, provided by several high-end institutions.
Another step is to build a broader, richer profile. For example, if you’ve only ever held marketing roles, ask to get involved in operations or finance. Do not be afraid to cross-pollinate – expand your perspective and exposure. You may even consider changing jobs altogether to broaden your expertise.
Make sure you don’t wait too long.
If you only begin this process when you’re ready to take on a Board position, you may have to wait years before you’re a viable candidate, so make sure you get yourself ahead of the competition.
Keep an eye out for part two of this series coming soon!
Mary Francia is a partner at HIEC. She regularly helps companies map their talent and use that information to better plan their workforce, attract the right people and increase retention and engagement amongst existing staff. To find out more about how she can help your company do that, too, contact her directly: firstname.lastname@example.org