The board application process is one many people find mystifying – why was one person selected for an interview and not another? This article will clear this up. Secondly, understanding what happens to your finely crafted application after it is submitted, is going to help you write even more impressive documents that will lead to more interviews and more appointments.
The board application grading process
In the first instance, your application gets put into a digital or physical pile to be looked at once the application date closes. In some instances, they may be looked at sooner, but generally, all applications are assessed in bulk.
Depending on the number of applications, the assessment (or sifting process) may take a day or even weeks to complete. It is a time-consuming process. Who controls the grading process varies dramatically. It may be a singular recruitment consultant or researcher; it may be the Chair or the CEO or it may be done in a group setting by the Nominations Committee.
No matter who grades the applications, the idea is to ‘sift’ the applications down to a small number of applicants to interview – rarely any more than 10 and ideally far less. This number often correlates to the number of applications received. Think of the process of sifting applications down to an interviewable number as following a bell curve. 10% of applicants don’t meet the criteria (C candidates), 80% are capable of doing the role required of them (B / B+ Candidates) and 10% are strong (A) candidates.
As a general rule, it is highly likely that most, if not all, of those chosen for an interview, will be A-candidates. Further, if you are an unknown candidate, then only if you are an ‘A’ candidate are you likely to be interviewed.
How do you become an “A” board candidate?
When appointing any new NED the Chair is always going to find someone who can ‘walk on water’. When they can’t find this person or need to define this person’s qualities, they start a grading process.
How this takes place is fairly formulaic. Specifically, your responses to each of the key criteria outlined in the job specification or advert will be measured and you will be given a score or a grade according to how well you did.
In doing this, they will grade each response with either a score out of ten or an A, B or C (or something similar). The aggregate of these scores will mean that your application is given a final grade – the bell curve I referred to before, where 10% are graded C-candidates, 80% fall in the middle and 10% are A-candidates.
Writing a successful Supporting Statement for your board application
In my experience, often the most powerful applications include a Supporting Statement that is simply a list of successes, it doesn’t include the context of why they were successful and is brief.
I like this approach. It assumes that if I want more detail I can read their CV or cover letter. Moreover, it focuses and highlights what a Chair/decision-maker wants to see and takes comfort in – success. Success is important because it assumes that if you did the role/function well in the past, you are likely to be able to do it well in future.
Of course, in practice, replicating success is not as simple as doing what you did last time (after all, the context is going to change dramatically from one board role to another). Still, stating clearly you have done what the advertiser wants, is the best way for an appointing organisation to be attracted to you – regardless of the context. Be sure that you demonstrate your success with confidence and be ready to support it with an example.
The challenge here, beyond demonstrating your success, is to make your document easy, succinct and confident but not arrogant. The good candidates manage to do this.
Are you new to the board appointment process?
If so, you should consider attending one of my virtual Board Search Breakfast events where I will take you through the framework of how to develop a board career.
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.