How you should respond to an Advertised UK Board Vacancy

Advertised Board Vacancies UK

As you may have already discovered, advertised board opportunities are usually well over-subscribed. This makes it a highly competitive process for every applicant, regardless of their skills and board experience. It is common for even small not-for-profit organisations to attract 40+ applicants when they advertise their board vacancy, with more than 50% being well qualified for the role! To add to the pressure, advertised board roles are usually managed initially by a single gatekeeper such as a recruiter, board member or HR representative.  The gatekeeper is often overwhelmed by the number of applicants. Here is my advice for responding to an advertised board vacancy and getting ahead of the competition.

First, you MUST research the role, the board and the organisation

Most advertised board vacancies include details of a person to call or email to discuss any details of the role. In my experience, less than 50% of applicants take the time to do so. Of those that do, most make the call too early – to their detriment. It is essential that you conduct research first. You should treat this process the same as you would for a highly sought-after executive role. 

So, before you do anything else, you MUST research the advertised opportunity. By this, I mean researching the role, the board, the organisation and the business environment in which they operate. The level of research you conduct will be determined by the time you have available and your motivations to be appointed to the role. You must at least conduct thorough online board research. I can not stress enough how critical this step is. You have just a short window of opportunity to make an impression, so preparation is everything. I also recommend that you research the person listed as the contact. Taking time to do this extra step may prove invaluable during your short conversation with them.

Then – and only then – speak to the advertiser

Assuming that you have completed your research, it is time to speak to the advertiser. Never assume what influence this person may or may not have in the appointment process. Too often have I seen potential candidates not prepare for this conversation, only to find out later that they were an integral part of the decision-making process. So, you need to know who you are calling and why you are calling, which should now be apparent as a result of your research.

The purpose of the conversation is twofold – 1) to leave a good and lasting impression and 2) to gain valuable knowledge so that your application is impressive; with the goal being to get ahead of the competition.

1) Be memorable to stand out from the competition

The aim here is to be memorable, but of course, for good reasons. If your conversation goes well, being memorable and a more known entity will help ensure you are front of mind when it is time to assess and shortlist applicants.

During the conversation, you want to show that you are proactive, informed, well-connected, understanding of the business and industry, qualified, and passionate about what the organisation does. You will unlikely get the opportunity to showcase everything to set priorities based on the requirements of the role and the 5 key things that Chairs look for in board candidates. Starting the conversation with ‘Can you tell me about the role’ is not going to do this. Instead, refer to something insightful gained from your research. You should also be able to accurately convey what value you bring to the board based on what you have discovered about them – information that your competitors are unlikely to have.

Remember I said that very few applicants will take the time to contact the advertiser. This is the very reason why you should. 

2) Gain insights and clarify details

Further, beyond wanting to impress them, you need to gain useful information that you can to ensure that your board application stands out. Information that the other applicants do not have because they did not take the effort to make the call. 

For example, to gain insight, it might be useful to know the following:

    • What are the organisation’s challenges? This will mean you can focus your conversations specifically on what they need—not what you think they need.
    • What are they ‘really’ looking for in a successful candidate? In many cases, what they state as required in a written advertisement does not quite articulate what they are really looking for. So, asking this question helps you understand their motivations, again allowing you to submit a more compelling application.

You also want to ensure that your board application includes all the elements required by the advertiser. With a large number of applications to sort and consider, not including an element may be a quick and easy reason not to include your application in a short list.

Importantly, you should also:

    • Confirm what needs to be included in your application – Board CV only? Board CV and Cover Letter? 2-page Board CV, 1-page Cover Letter? Supporting Statement ? Application Form?
    • Confirm the closing date
    • Confirm your interest in applying. This is important because sometimes applications close early. Registering your interest early means that reduces your chances of missing out.

Once you have 1. done your research, 2. spoken to the advertiser, and 3. clarified the application requirements, you should then, and only then, begin writing your board application.

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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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