October 8, 2019

How To Be A Better Candidate For A Board Position

Is corporate board service something you're considering as a next career step? While you may be an attractive candidate and possess the right experience, expertise and skills, don’t assume opportunities will just fall in your lap.

Landing a board seat takes time. Strategically marketing yourself is critical to driving awareness of your interest and qualifications. Start thinking about what differentiates you from other potential candidates and how you can communicate that online and in person.

To strengthen your visibility and marketability as a board candidate, here are 5 things to do now.

1. Identify your unique board value

What do you bring to the table as a director? The answer is not the same as what you bring as an operational executive. Understanding this difference is critical. Consider your work and volunteer experience. Focus on what’s most valuable to a board and what differentiates you from your peers.

Do you have...

  • Governance experience?
  • Involvement with things like global expansion, risk management or M&A?
  • Deep industry knowledge?
  • A track record of making strategic decisions by consensus?
  • Strong experience in technology innovation?
  • Expertise in cybersecurity, IPOs, compliance or executive compensation -- or other areas in which a board is involved?

The more self-awareness and specificity you have about what you can bring to the boardroom, the better equipped you’ll be to communicate these strengths to others.

2. Prepare board-ready materials

As a potential candidate, a board-ready resume and an updated LinkedIn profile are essential. (A board bio is beneficial too.) These materials should be distinct from what you've used when pursuing a management role; they require a different focus.

An effective board resume provides a higher-level picture of you. It emphasizes strategic, board-relevant experience and results -- like how you helped transform and advance a company and impacted the bottom line. It does not focus on executional details. In addition to board certifications (earned or in process), include committee work, task forces and nonprofit board roles that demonstrate collaborative advisory experience, governance and stewardship.

Your LinkedIn profile should reflect a combination of both operational executive accomplishments and the board-relevant experience and qualities included on your resume. At minimum, update your Headline and About sections and populate the Volunteer section, including leadership and committee roles. In the Skills section, add those that relate to board service.

Board-ready materials are important marketing tools that shape the impressions you make on key contacts. They should reflect your best qualities for the boardroom (not basic management).

3. Tell your network

If no one in your network knows of your interest in board service, the chances of hearing about opportunities are much smaller than if they did. Word of mouth and referrals enable access to opportunities, so start talking to people you know -- not only about your interest, but also why you’re interested and what, specifically, you can bring to a board.

Since telling key contacts is critical, be sure to include those who are sitting or recent directors and advisors for public, private or nonprofit organizations. Contacts who work directly with boards are beneficial too, like M&A attorneys, turnaround specialists, private equity partners, accountants etc. If you don’t know anyone in these areas, start networking -- such as within professional and alumni associations -- to meet people who are, as they are some of the most likely people to know about board openings.

Communicate with (and cultivate) your network regularly to let them know of your interest and stay top of mind when opportunities arise.

4. Look the part

Your appearance contributes to what people think about you even before meeting you, so present yourself in a style and manner that's befitting of a corporate director. This is especially important if your "day job" is very casual, but you’re looking to network with board-involved people who operate in more formal business settings.

Maximize impressions you make on or at meetings, networking events and conferences through sharp professional attire. Avoid outdated outfits that look worn or don’t fit quite right. When your clothes look good and fit well, you’ll appear and feel more confident, which is key both when meeting new people and during every step of a board search.

Consider your headshot too, which people may see on your LinkedIn profile, bio or company website before meeting you. Look at your outfit, facial expression, body language and background -- do they send the right message?

You'll strengthen your board candidacy when others can picture you in the part.

5. Get certified

Obtaining a board certification shows serious commitment and desire to provide the most value and effective leadership as possible. These credentials, provided by many organizations including the National Association For Corporate Directors, Private Directors Association, Harvard Business School, Society For Corporate Governance, Wharton etc., signal that you’ve learned both the fundamentals and intricacies of corporate directorship and have the necessary knowledge, skills and abilities to serve competently on a board. They provide a strong compliment to your executive experience.

Certifications are highly valuable and make you more marketable, particularly if your direct board-related experience is on the lighter side.

If you’d like to serve on a board and have the right background for it, the next step is to get your ducks in a row so you'll be prepared when opportunities arise. Define your unique value and ensure you can articulate it confidently. Create board-ready career materials and network on an ongoing basis.

Increasing your visibility and getting the word out both in-person and online will attract attention, drive consideration and, hopefully, result in an invitation to interview.

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