As you may have already experienced, advertised board opportunities are usually over-subscribed. This makes it a highly competitive process. I have seen small not-for-profit organisations in regional areas attract 30+ applicants, with over 50% being capable of being appointed! Gaining a board appointment is always going to be competitive, but people are appointed by responding to advertised opportunities all the time. In fact, my 2nd board appointment was via an advert, and many of our members have been successfully appointed this way too. Here’s my advice for responding to an advertised board vacancy.
First, you MUST do RESEARCH on the board opportunity
Most advertised roles include details of a person to call about the vacancy for an ‘informal chat’ – less than 50% of applicants make this call. Of those that do, most make the call too early – to their detriment. So call, please, but do your research first. You should treat the way you respond to advertisements similar to the way you work with recruiters or apply directly to a company. After all, a recruiter is at the most basic level, and in some cases literally, advertising an opportunity by calling their candidates about the opportunity they are working on.
Beyond understanding how recruiters work and before you do anything else, you should first do your research on the advertised opportunity. This is absolutely critical.
Then – and only then – speak to the advertiser
On the assumption that you have done your research, you should then speak to the advertiser. Sometimes this is the recruiter, but often it is the decision-maker (the Board Chair or Chair of the Nominations Committee) or someone else who might influence the appointment process. Here it’s important not to underestimate the influence this person has. Too many times have potential candidates not prepared for their conversation with the contact person on the advert, only to find out later they were an integral part of the process. So, you should know who you are calling and research them prior to making the call.
Be memorable and dare them not to appoint you
The idea here is to be memorable and to gain as much useful information as possible so that you can use it in a formal application. Of course, you should be memorable for good reasons. Picking up the phone and saying ‘Can you tell me about the role’ is not going to do this. Instead, have something intelligent to say, something insightful gleaned from your research and the conversations you have had. You should be able to accurately convey what value you bring to the board based on what you have discovered about them – information that your competitors don’t have. It means using a similar opening like the one we discussed using a recruiter.
The end result is that you want to demonstrate yourself to be proactive, informed, well-connected, understand their business/industry, qualified and passionate about what they do. You can’t do this without researching the opportunity first.
Call to clarify
Further, beyond wanting to impress them and stand out, you also need more information so that you can put in the best possible application. For example, it might be useful to know:
- What their challenges are. This will mean you can focus your conversations and specifically to what they need – not what you think they need.
- What they are ‘really’ looking for in a successful candidate – In many cases, what they state is required in a written advert does not adequately articulate what they are really looking for. So, asking this question helps understand their motivations, again allowing you to submit a more compelling application.
Importantly, you should also:
- Clarify what they need by way of an application and the closing dates – CV only? CV and Cover Letter? Or CV (2 pages), Cover Letter (1 page)?, Supporting Statement (1500 words)? Good to do so you can submit an application in the style and with the content that they want.
- Register an interest – This is important because sometimes/often applications close early. Registering your interest early means that you don’t miss out.
Once you have 1. done your research, 2. spoken to the advertiser and 3. clarified the information above, you should then, and only then, begin writing your board application.
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.