Making an early start with board career planning is important, but perseverance is everything!

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Having worked with thousands of people interested in gaining a board appointment, I know that starting the journey early is of critical importance. Equally, starting the journey at the end of your executive career expecting an immediate appointment, can have a devastating effect on your appointability and motivation.

At the beginning of each new year, I receive an influx of enquiries from individuals who have had time to think about where their careers are headed over the Christmas break and now have decided to develop a board career. In many cases, they have been thinking about this change and stepping up their attempts to get appointed, after much procrastination over the previous 12 months and often years of inaction.

Their struggles are not unique – many don’t know how to get appointed or find the journey too difficult to decipher. As such, our conversations often focus on their lack of success, lack of structure and them taking a reactive approach to the search for a board appointment rather than a proactive one.

The new year is a great time to start fresh; to double down on making your board career a reality and make changes that will facilitate this. Unfortunately, those changes are often forgotten as family and social pressures on top of a busy executive job leave little time to consider anything more than managing the status quo – to the detriment of your career, retirement or ambitions.

As such, it is of utmost importance that you put both achievable and sustainable practices in place to ensure that you are able to persevere and get appointed. I recommend you do this by focusing on two elements.

  1. An Early Start

Successful Non-Executives Directors (NEDs) start their journey to a board appointment early in their careers because they recognise it takes time to build their experience and to get appointed. For this reason, they spend a good deal of time building their networks but they are also clear about what their value is at board level and the specific organisations they are targeting. These last two points are important to understand as they provide structure for you moving forward.

On the assumption that you are clear on what sort of organisation will appoint you and you know why you should be appointed to those boards, then you should focus on building networks in and around these organisations. My previous Chairman (an exceptional executive recruiter) used to advise executives considering a board appointment to consider spending up to 30% of their time focusing on building or sustaining their own brand. Much of his advice was focused on ensuring that they maintained and grew their personal connections. This is what successful NEDs do when preparing for a board appointment.

  1. Perseverance Through Structure

Perseverance comes by having achievable and sustainable practices in place. It is also often reinforced by having some quick and ongoing wins.

Maintaining your perseverance when life gets in the way can be challenging, so it is critical you have a structure in place that supports your board aspirations.

I have probably given this topic more thought than most and have developed a clear map for the journey to a successful appointment. It focuses on what I describe as the 3 Core Pillars for a board appointment – Aspirations, Articulation & Application. I have broken them down into a further nine segments – all of which have applicable actions stemming from them. This map, I have called my “Board Appointment Model“. When applied to individual cases it provides individuals with a clear route to a board appointment. This clarity makes persevering that much easier. It is the fundament framework for my Executive Membership.

  1. Do Three Things

So the route to your first or a subsequent board appointment this year is threefold. Firstly, be clear and list the organisation(s) you want and can be appointed to and why you should be appointed to them. Secondly, tell people you are looking for a board appointment – in particular people you see rarely or infrequently. They are called your ‘weak ties’. And finally, persevere. Stick at it, this is a highly competitive process but the rewards that come with a board appointment – professional, financial, social and societal – are always worth it.

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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