Not getting a board seat? Take the Board Appointment Quiz

Whether you are seeking your first board seat or building a board career, I am sure you are aware of the challenges and obstacles to come and that the process of getting appointed is highly competitive. To get some clarity on the path ahead and to identify the hurdles you need to overcome, complete my Board Appointment Quiz.

Part 1 – Aspiration

Understanding your board aspirations is the foundation of a successful board appointment process. If you don’t get these foundations right, everything you do subsequently may be destined to fail or waste your precious time.

Questions to ask yourself: 

  1. Are you clear on what organizations you would like to serve on the board of, now and in the future?
  2. Are you realistic about what organizations would appoint you to their board?

Once you have answers to these questions, the most valuable thing you can do next is start telling people that you are looking for a board seat. But only if you can confidently respond to the questions they are likely to ask: “What boards are you interested in serving on?”. They can only help if you can name the organizations that you both want and could be appointed to.

If you lack this clarity, others will lose confidence in you and your abilities. You also run the risk of coming across as opportunistic. They will also be unsure about how they can help and who they can introduce you to.

Being clear on your board aspirations is the foundational step for board success. If you don’t know which organizations you both want and could be appointed to, implementing a board appointment plan will be very difficult. 

Part 2 – Articulation

“Why do you want to serve on a board?” It is a very common question. It won’t matter how many conversations you have, board applications you write, or board interviews you attend; if you are unable to answer this question, an appointment is unlikely. Your success depends on your ability to convince others of your value at the board level. 

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. Do you know what would motivate a decision maker or contact to recommend you for a board appointment?
  2. What are your areas of expertize, and why are your skills and experience valuable at board level?
  3. Can you deliver your pitch in a brief water cooler moment or during a 1:1 conversation?
  4. Can you write a compelling board application, including a board resume and cover letter?
  5. If you were asked in a board interview, “Why should we appoint you?” Could you answer that question compellingly?

Once you have addressed these questions, you should write or rewrite your board resume. A board resume is different from an executive resume. It must articulate your value and success at the board level and open with a compelling board profile. This is achieved by addressing the five core selection criteria that a Chair and other decision-makers seek in a successful board candidate. 

Writing the resume itself is a valuable process. Putting pen to paper helps to get everything out of your head and provides clarity for what you have to offer a board. Doing so puts you in a far better position to verbally articulate your value when building your board network or during a formal board interview.

Part 3 – Application

By application, I mean applying what you have learned in parts 1 & 2 above to develop a board appointment plan. You should also include a manageable accountability framework to ensure you get things done.

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. Are you waiting for board opportunities to be presented to you, or are you being proactive about finding board opportunities?
  2. Do you know how to find advertised board vacancies?
  3. Do you know how to impress board recruiters or headhunters?
  4. Do you know how to research and approach organizations directly?
  5. Do you know how to leverage your existing personal and professional connections to gain an independent board seat?

There are only four ways board appointments are made. 

  • 65%+ of appointments are made via a personal connection, with 50% of those being the result of a connection you see rarely or infrequently.
  • 15% are made by individuals directly approaching companies with an offer to help.
  • 20% of them are filled via a recruitment firm or formal advertised process.

These statistics are generalized and will vary depending on location, organization type, industry, and internal or external legal requirements. Regardless of the exact figures, you should consider which option or options are most likely to produce results for your target roles. 

I am sure that your time is valuable. So, if you are madly applying for every advertised independent board role you come across or waiting patiently for a recruiter to call you back, statistically, this may not be the best use of your time.

Moving Forward

If you are ready to pursue an independent board seat, answering the questions above should help you develop a three-stage process that is clear and easy to implement. 

Stage one begins by evaluating what board you want to serve on in the future. From there, compile a list of organizations, boards, and committees that can help you achieve your long-term board aspirations. 

In stage two, you must have a clear board pitch. The formal version of your pitch is your board profile. As a guide, it should include the following statements: “At board level, what I do is….” and “I do that by…”. 

Finally, in stage three, you need to be proactive. That might mean evaluating your efforts so far and pivoting your approach with a more structured and accountable plan. You will still hit roadblocks, but you will have more clarity to identify them and options to address them.

The key to successfully gaining a board seat is to treat it as a process – and never a journey. It is a process of three steps: Aspiration, Articulation and Application. Breaking it down this way and following a simple implementation plan will mean that you will find board seats that others can’t, separate yourself from your competitors, get appointed more often, and get a far greater return on the investment of your time.

Related Articles

Your Board Appointment Plan: 10-step guide

Do I need a board resume? Should I write one?

What are the selection criteria for independent board members?

How to Impress a Board Recruiter: A guide

About the Author

David Schwarz is CEO & Founder of Board Appointments. He has over a decade of experience in putting people on boards as an international headhunter and recruiter. He has interviewed hundreds of directors and placed hundreds into some of the most significant public, private and NFP director roles in the world.

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