Commercial board appointments are appealing for many because they: offer an opportunity to build your career; are likely to be remunerated and; are likely to reflect your existing executive experience.
While a recent study confirmed 50% of UK businesses with boards recruit a new board member each year, and there are approximately 42,000 opportunities available annually, there are far more people that desire board appointments than there are opportunities. As such it is important you can separate yourself from your competitors. Here are 5 commandments to help you do that:
The First Commandment: Thou shalt tell people
65% of people are appointed to a board via a personal contact – and approximately 50% of all board appointments occur via someone you meet rarely or infrequently. So, the first and most valuable thing you can do to get a commercial board appointment is to start telling people you are looking for one. Easy!
The Second Commandment: Thou shalt be specific
However, if you follow the first commandment then you have to be ready for the subsequent question, ‘What sort of board are you looking for?’. Being specific about your aspirations is critically important and has a number of benefits. It also answers the question that people want to know ‘What sort of board do you want?’ Too many people think their skills and experience are transferable to any number of commercial organisations. While that may be true it does not mean that you will be appointable to every board. In fact, articulating anything other than your specific board aspirations i.e. the names of organisations you are targeting, is the number one mistake people make.
The Third Commandment: Thou shalt manage your aspirations
Being specific is essential. However, you need to ensure that the names of the businesses you articulate as targets make sense. If you tell people you want to be the Chair of BHP but have never worked in resources before then you are clearly doing your reputation, and chances of getting a board appointment, a disservice. It is essential then that the names of the businesses you WANT to be appointed to are ones that you CAN be appointed to. If your aspiration is to join a Listed 100 company board but you have no board experience then you will likely find the journey ahead a frustrating one. It is essential you balance your board aspirations against the reality of your appointment to those boards. Doing so will make your journey more enjoyable and quicker.
The Fourth Commandment: Thou Shalt know your value
You have to be ready to answer the second subsequent question too ‘Why do you want to be appointed to the board of that company?’ Broadly, I think there are 7 sorts of commercial organisations that have boards (Large Listed Public Companies, Small Listed, Large Unlisted Public Companies or Large Private Companies, Family Companies, Start Ups and organisations looking for Investment or Value Add Directors). You must know: what your value is, why it is valuable at board level (as opposed to as an executive). You need to be able to address the 5 things that a Chair wants to find in a successful director.
The Fifth Commandment: Thou shalt engage and be passionate
Regardless of what your targets might be you must be passionate about them. I don’t mean being giddy with excitement rather, you must be able to demonstrate you are passionate about one (or all of) of three things: 1. what the organisation does 2. what the organisation is or 3. how your skills and experience will contribute. Not sharing these will shed a negative and opportunistic light on your potential appointment. Whilst you may already have this passion, for others it may need to be manufactured. There are plenty of other ways if you put your mind to it.
Regardless of the sort of commercial board you are interested in targeting you must do just that – target it. That means being deliberate and telling people about your aspirations. Remember, you can not afford to be everything to everyone so be explicitly clear about the value you bring to those organisations at board level. Finally, remember to engage with the organisation you are targeting – this can make a massive difference to a Chair and your potential appointment .
The Next Step
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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