To gain a board appointment you must be able to articulate why you should be considered, plus understand the motivations for the Chair (the ultimate decision-maker). Regardless of your target organisation, there are just 5 core elements that make the perfect board candidate.
There are literally thousands of boards operating across the UK. Each one of them operates differently and therefore seems difficult to determine exactly what they might look for in a new board member. Most will target specific sets of skills that regularly change to match the organisation’s current circumstances and values. Overriding this is 5 core assets or skills that are valued by most boards and make you a perfect board candidate.
There are 5 Core Criteria that make a perfect board candidate
In the last 15 years, I have taken briefs from hundreds of Chairs who were looking for new non-executive directors. After stripping away the contextual issues, in my experience, there are five core criteria that you must be able to address when putting yourself in the running for a board position. The summation of these elements will go some way to making you the perfect board candidate and on the shortlist.
#1 Prior Governance or Board Experience
One of the best ways to demonstrate future success is past success. Many chairs will overemphasise the value of past governance experience, but it is something most chairs take the most comfort from. So if you have governance experience – tell them. Make it clear you understand the role, responsibilities and how boards work.
If you don’t have board or governance experience it does not mean you can not get a board appointment. Just tell yourself that “everyone must start their board career somewhere”. What you need to do is try to orchestrate some governance and/or board-level experience. That may be serving on a committee at work, evidence of reporting to boards or a small not-for-profit appointment.
#2 Executive Skill Set
Ask yourself – What is your value at board level? Why are your skills more valuable than your competitors? These are the questions you should be able to answer clearly and effectively. If you are unclear about this, it is a killer. I recently interviewed a potential board candidate who was well-qualified with had relevant experience, but could not articulate what their value to a board would be. Needless to say, he did not make it past the first stage of the board appointment process. So, be clear about what you have to offer, then ensure that you can articulate it.
One of the best ways for you to do this is to consider “how your skills can mitigate risk at board-level?” Answer the question “what could happen to the organisation if it did not have my skills and experience on the board?”. There are plenty of high profile cases where organisations have opened themselves up to unnecessary risk by not ensuring the right skills are represented on their board.
#3 Personal Connections
Many organisations with boards don’t need high levels of governance or particular skills represented. Many only really want your personal connections. If you see this as something you have to offer, ensure to demonstrate how your ‘Personal Connections’ (otherwise known as ‘networks’ which Malcolm Gladwell in his book” The Tipping Point” helpfully reframes) can benefit the board and success of the organisation. Spend some time thinking about who you know (individuals, industry or organisations), and how they could be valuable in a board context. Regardless of what you call them, boards want to benefit from your personal connections. These introductions you provide can result in business growth and new opportunities. The value of your personal connections should never be underestimated They offer more to an organisation than you might think. Consider this as a key component of your unique selling point (USP) and a reason to consider you as a perfect board candidate.
#4 Demonstratable Passion
Passion is the key to being able an effective non-executive director and chairs know this. Current board members and potential board candidates must have an authentic passion for the organisation. They need to be passionate about all of these three things:
- What the organisation does
- What the organisation stands for
- How they can contribute
You must be able to share your and demonstrate your passion. Be careful this type of passion can be manufactured so be transparent.
#5 Cultural Fit
Cultural fit is difficult to define every board and every organisation is unique. Cultural fit can also evolve. Even though is it difficult to define, it is probably the most important element a chair will consider when making his final decision.
In essence, to be the perfect board candidate, you need to have a good cultural fit. This means that you are going to work appropriately with every board member and are not seen as a risk (disrupter) to those appointing you. In preparation, board candidates should prepare this issue when having formal or informal conversations with board members or board chairs.
There is a lot here for you to consider however, if you want to be seen as the perfect board candidate, up need to work on the 5 core areas.
- Governance Experience: Someone who has done the job successfully before.
- Skills: Someone who is qualified and capable of doing the role that is asked of them.
- Connections: Someone who knows the sector and is connected well enough to bring additional value to the business.
- Passion: Someone who really wants to see the business grow because they are passionate about what they do.
- Culture: Someone who is going to fit into the culture of the team and/or organisation.
There is, of course, no such thing as the perfect board candidate and there are countless reasons why you might not be appointed to a board. However, understanding how and why the gatekeepers make their decisions and what they are looking for, means that you can begin to address them. Thereby increasing your chances of successfully being appointed to a board. When you are ready to start applying, we list hundreds of UK board opportunities each month.
About the Author
David Schwarz is CEO & Founder of Board Appointments – The UK’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.