How to use board recruitment firms to get a board appointment

How to use board recruitment firms

You need to know how best to use board recruitment firms to get a board appointment because 10% of board appointments in the UK are made through recruiters and search firms. Often these are the largest or most significant opportunities. As a past board recruiter, I want to offer some insider knowledge to help you gain a board appointment through this process.

The best advice I can give you when dealing with board recruiters – don’t

I began my executive recruitment career in one of the UK’s top executive search firms. A large part of my role was counselling candidates about how to find board (and executive) roles. People continually tried to book time in my diary for a chat. If and when time permitted, I would make time for these meetings.

Honestly, the best advice I could offer many of these people was to “avoid people like me when looking for a board role”.

Why? If I was speaking to them, I was speaking to hundreds just like them. That was my job, and that was what my client was paying me to do. For me, as a recruiter, the board recruitment process involved sourcing and comparing hundreds of qualified board candidates for a role. Nobody wants to be one of the hundreds applying for a role, and your chances of being appointed in this competitive exercise are low. I could see that there were more effective ways aspiring board directors could use their time.

How board recruiters operate in the UK

UK board recruitment firms typically work with an extensive network of corporate clients to source qualified candidates for Board appointments.

The process begins with the board recruitment firm engaging with its network of contacts to identify potential directors and board candidates. The firm’s recruitment specialists and researchers then expand the search to identify an extensive list of suitable candidates that meet the selection criteria outlined by the client. Once applications close, the recruitment firm is usually also engaged to produce a shortlist of suitable candidates who the client or board to interview.

Executive search consultants and board recruiters work on reputation. “You are only as good as your last appointment” is a phrase many in the industry use. In their eyes, there is no room for a failed appointment, and every appointment assignment is critical. Essentially, this means that they WILL NOT recommend a candidate they do not have absolute faith in to their client. Recruitment professionals have dedicated extensive time and effort to establishing trustworthy client relationships. Their recommendations and opinions hold significant value in the eyes of the client.

How to use board recruiters and search firms effectively in your board director search

Although my advice to “avoid board recruiter” was well-intentioned, it is likely, not feasible in today’s UK market. Currently, board recruitment firms or executive recruitment firms are responsible for handling most of the significant and paid board roles. It’s important to recognise that recruiters are hired to serve as gatekeepers. So, you must know how to make an impression and influence them.

Below are some tips on how to use board recruiters and search firms effectively:

1. Accept their role in the processes

Good board opportunities are placed with poor recruitment firms, and good opportunities can be hidden behind any recruiters. For this reason, no matter how you feel about the recruitment industry, it is important not to be put off by rude recruiters or lousy service. Recruiters hold a significant amount of influence in the board recruitment process, whether you agree with it or not.

2. Use them as a source of intelligence

Board recruitment firms and executive recruiters can provide a wealth of information about the board appointment process. They are typically in tune with current industry and board appointment trends. They can also help you identify what skills and experiences organisations are looking for when appointing board members. By talking to board recruitment firms or executive recruiters, you can gain insight into salary levels for different boards and broader market trends.

3. Build relationships with recruiters

First, I recommend you build a good relationship with key recruiters and then keep in touch with them. Maintain an active list of contacts to whom you can regularly reach out, and keep them updated on your progress. Many recruiters will follow up with potential candidates once a role has been filled; if they do, make sure you stay in contact. Follow the firm and individual recruiters on LinkedIn. Not only will they share news, tips and events, but they will usually list any board appointment assignments that they are working on.

4. Target the right firms

Ensure you research and identify the right recruitment firms and individual recruiters to build relationships with. Your time is as valuable as theirs, so use it wisely. Base your research on their track record in successful board appointments and their knowledge of your sector/industry. Their websites and LinkedIn pages are the best places to start.

5. Ensure sure you stand out

It is important to make yourself known to recruiters so that they can recommend you when the right opportunity arises. Ensure your Board CV and LinkedIn profile are up-to-date and highlight your relevant board experience and qualifications. Know your board value position and be confident about what you have to offer a board. You may have only seconds to make a first and lasting impression.

6. Gain their trust

Understanding that a recruiter’s reputation is key means you will do all you can to give them the confidence that you are the person for the role. They will, in turn, have no trouble looking their client in the eye and saying so. Be under no illusion their client will ask them for their recommendations – explicitly, i.e. “Who do you think we should appoint?’”. Like any consultant, recruiters have opinions that are what they are being paid for. They will never shy away from giving advice on who their clients should appoint or, at the very least, guide their decision-making process.


Board recruitment firms and executive recruiters are essential elements in securing board appointments in today’s market. By understanding their role and building relationships with the right ones, you can use them effectively to increase your chances during this highly competitive board appointment process. Keep in mind that it is essential to make yourself known to board recruiters, ensure your board CV and LinkedIn profile are up-to-date, target the right firms, use them as a source of intelligence and gain their trust. Doing this will help you stand out and increase your chances of getting a board appointment. 

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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.

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