Of all the advice I offer, How to de-risk your appointment is perhaps the most valuable thing I can show you. However, conducting thorough online research will not only de-risk your appointment but also give you the edge over the other candidates. Less than 5% of the other candidates will perform the level of research that can result in a board appointment.
Why do online research?
Gaining a board appointment actually comes down to being able to separate yourself from your competitors. If like your competitors, you are only prepared to do the minimal level of online research, you will not be able to benefit from the acquired knowledge and ultimately differentiate yourself from them. Equally, you will not be able to provide comfort to the Chair and other decision-makers that you are a good fit for the role. Being able to separate yourself from the competition and de-risk your appointment can result in a board appointment. Conducting thorough online research is critical in both scenarios.
What level of online research is required to result in a board appointment?
Most will read this and think – “yes, that makes sense, but my research is just fine”. But for only a few of you, this will be true. It astounds me that at least 95% of the candidate applications do not do anywhere near the level of detailed online research I would recommend. Those that do outshine other candidates. They have gathered information, contacts, knowledge and insights that others simply don’t have. With the wealth of readily available digital resources, there should be no excuse.
So if you are applying for board positions and receiving “‘Thank you for your application. We regret to inform you….” response, it is likely that you are not conducting the level of online research that can result in a board appointment.
Basic online research includes browsing the organisation’s websites and social media platforms, Internet and news searches. But you must do more. This basic level of company research is not useless, but it will not differentiate you from any other candidate. Most applicants will know what the company does, where and in what industries it conducts business. Basic online research will not provide you with detailed insights and knowledge that you can use to your advantage.
The level of online research that leads to a board appointment can be extensive, tedious and time-consuming. Even if one acknowledges the benefits, one often lacks the motivation to do so. Hence, you should do it; at the very least, extensive online research will result in you submitting a more informed application, This, in turn, will increase your chances of being appointed. I can honestly say that every stand-out board application I have ever evaluated has done so directly from the results of comprehensive online research.
What does extensive online research looks like?
Extensive online research involves much more than merely clicking through the organisation’s website. There is so much more you can do from a computer to understand the company and the specific board role that you are interested in.
STEP 1 – Research the organisation
- First, look at the organisation’s website. Pay particular attention to about us, history, the latest news and events. Download product and or sales information and, most importantly, any formal documents and company reports.
- Look at their company pages on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter
- Read customer reviews and comments on social media and review platforms such as Google
- Analyse their performance plus past, current & future issues
- Search for recent and past news articles relevant to the organisation. Use Google News to get results from all media outlets.
- Register to receive their newsletters and social media posts
STEP 2 – Research the competition, the market and the industries
- Competitor analysis – Who are the competitors, and what do they do differently
- Research relevant industry bodies to gain more information about the industry and current issues
- Are there any macro issues or events affecting the organisation or the industry
- Are there regulatory considerations for that industry
STEP 3 – Research the board
- Current and past members, including background and experience
- Typical activities, responsibilities and the skills required
- Possible skills gaps are missing on the Board
- Board member tenure and turnover
- Why is there currently a vacancy
- The good news – online research can result in a board appointment
Few aspiring board directors are prepared to engage in the level of research I listed above. Particularly if they see no guarantee of a positive outcome. Firstly, I recommend you reassess what you consider a positive outcome. If you are currently applying for roles and not making a shortlist. Then start conducting extensive research before your next board application. If you then make a shortlist, that is a positive outcome. You have used those insights to get noticed and on an interview shortlist. A board appointment is just one more step away.
Once you get to an interview, Chairs & decision-makers value the extra effort you put in and the commitment you have shown to the organisation. You will also have a wealth of knowledge and insights to draw on during the interview that, hopefully, the other candidates will not.
During the training sessions included in the Executive Membership Package, I will teach you how to perform extensive online research that can result in a board appointment, plus how to prepare for a board interview.
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 in 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.