Maintaining a positive mindset can increase your chances of securing your first NED Appointment

Positive mindset to secure first NED appointment

Almost 20  years of board recruitment experience tells me that rejection is a natural part of the board appointment process, particularly when you are trying to secure your first Non-Executive Director (NED) appointment, a paid board role or even when trying to develop a board portfolio. Obtaining a board appointment requires patience, time and perseverance. Success is not solely based on your personal networks, skills and experience. Maintaining a positive mindset and cultivating self-assurance is vital.

Tips for building and maintaining confidence throughout the NED appointment process

Tip 1 – Evaluate your goals and targets, are they attainable?

Put yourself in the shoes of those making the decision. If you were in their position, would you choose yourself for the roles you are seeking? If you can’t confidently answer yes, then you may be at a disadvantage compared to other candidates. Ask yourself why you want this NED appointment. If your board aspirations are not realistic, now is the time to re-evaluate your goals and consider pursuing different board roles.

Tip 2 – Evaluate your experience, skills, and level of expertise

Re-evaluate your board-level and executive experience, your skills plus levels and fields of expertise. Research and create a physical list of organisations that would benefit from your unique combination of skills and experience. Know your board value proposition keeping in mind the 5 things boards look for in a candidate.

If you discover gaps or deficiencies in your skills and experience, think about ways you can bridge those skill gaps, ie Governance training, financial literacy courses, industry experience, and IT skills. Should you pivot your focus towards NED appointments that do not require those skills and knowledge? Even a committee or board committee role may be the right option for you at this time.

Tip 3 – Set realistic time expectations

Gone are the days when the board chairman simply picked up the phone and offered someone (who he knew) a place on his board. These days due process is to be followed when appointing a new NED. The processes can often take months and multiple interviews. Your aim should, therefore, should around 12 months to secure a board role and be prepared for your first NED appointment to take longer to attain. If you take the right steps and adopt the planned approach, an appointment can come sooner.

Tip 4 – Be prepared for and expect rejection

Even well-experienced NEDs get rejected for board roles. Rejection is never easy, especially when it comes to applying for a Non-Executive Director (NED) role. Despite having the necessary experience and skill set, you may not be successful in securing an interview, let alone the role. It can be hard to take and can leave you feeling deflated.

Understanding how to handle rejection is important. By reflecting on the experience, understanding what went wrong and asking yourself how you could do better next time, you have the opportunity to move forward positively and learn from your mistakes. So, instead of feeling defeated and giving up, take a moment to reflect and ask yourself:

    • What can you learn from this experience?
    • What could you do differently?
    • How can you improve for next time?

Remind yourself that rejection and self-reflection helps build your resilience.

TIP 5 – Ask for feedback

Regardless of where you are in the NED appointment process or at what stage you experienced rejection, seek feedback.

If you are applying for NED roles but not making it to the interview stage, find out why. Ask the recruiter or relevant representative of the organisation for feedback about your application. If you feel confident, ask them what was the difference between your application and those that did make the shortlist. Seek out a mentor who can provide you with an independent viewpoint on your board pitch, board cv and aspirations.

If you made it to a board interview but did not get the NED roles, again, ask for feedback. Since you made it to the interview, it is safe to assume that your board application was impressive. Focus on receiving honest feedback on your performance during the interview. Speak with the recruiter and members of the interview panel. Find out if there is anything that you can work on for future interviews. Try to find out if you were in the mix. If so, it is only a matter of time until you secure your first NED appointment.

Stay motivated with a positive mindset

With any goal, especially when it comes to pursuing your first NED appointment, it is essential to stay motivated through a positive mindset. It can be challenging to stay positive and remain focused amidst the rejection and disappointment of not being chosen for a NED role that you clearly believe is right for you.

The characteristics of a positive mindset include the following:

Optimism: a willingness to make an effort and take a chance instead of assuming your efforts won’t pay off.

Acceptance: acknowledging that things don’t always turn out how you want them to, but learning from your mistakes.

Resilience: bouncing back from adversity, disappointment, and failure instead of giving up.

Ways to stay positive and motivated in order to secure your first NED appointments include:

    • Remain optimistic no matter how bleak the situation may seem.
    • Maintain a positive outlook and remember that rejection is a normal part of the journey.
    • Use rejection as motivation to better yourself and work towards achieving success in the future.
    • Visualise success and be persistent in pursuing your goals.
    • Continue to work on your skills and experience.
    • Avoid becoming disgruntled, as it can lead to a negative mindset that affects your language and attitude.
    • Believe in yourself and that the right opportunity will eventually come along.


Securing your first NED appointment, for most, is a challenging process. Gaining a subsequent board role or even developing a board portfolio can be equally difficult. Over time and faced with rejection after rejection, it is easy to lose confidence and motivation. However, by following these five tips, you can begin to reposition yourself to make the most of any opportunities that come your way. Remember to remain optimistic, gain feedback, stay motivated with a positive mindset, network and build relationships, and constantly work on improving your skills and experience. With the right mindset, you will be well on your way to securing your first NED appointment and even a portfolio of board roles.

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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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