Research is one of the most important things you can do to get on a board. When conducted thoroughly, it will open up board opportunities, help you refine your board aspirations, give you the edge over the other candidates, make you memorable and ultimately, the thing that gets you that board seat.
When should you research
1 – When finding board roles.
Research can be utilized effectively to find advertised board opportunities, essentially a job-hunting process. However, it is more effective in finding non-advertised board opportunities. Research is critical when taking the direct approach to getting on a board. Only through extensive research can you compile a list of organizations you want to be appointed to, find out who you should have conversations with, and provide valuable insights when engaging in those conversations.
2 -Prior to contacting an advertiser or headhunter
The person you are about to reach out to will likely have input into who makes the shortlist, so you want to make the right impression. You will also have limited time to make that impression. Research will help you to prepare and impress with insights, commitment and confidence.
3 – Prior to submitting a board application
You must research before submitting a board application and board CV. Research will provide the means by which you can differentiate yourself from the other candidates. If you are unable t do this; your board application will be added to the pile of candidates who are unlikely to gain an interview, let alone a board seat. I have reviewed thousands of board applications, and those candidates that stand out have clearly completed comprehensive research.
4 – Prior to a board interview
You have made it to the interview stage, but you are unlikely to be the only candidate. You need to convince the interview panel that a) you can confidently do the role and b) you are the right person for their Board. By referring to what you have learnt through your research, you will demonstrate your passion and commitment to the organization and the role.
Why research can help you get on a board
Firstly, only through thorough research will you have the insights to stand out during the board appointment process. Let’s face it; this is a highly competitive process at every stage. You must separate yourself from the other candidates (on paper and in person) to make the interview shortlist and win the appointment. You need to demonstrate to the gatekeepers that you are the right person for the role and convince the chair that you are not a risk to the Board and organization.
You can leverage your research to enhance your performance in every stage of the board application process. Plus, you will come across as proactive, intelligent, informed, connected and passionate. These are all qualities that chairs look for in a new director.
Secondly, the most compelling reason research will help you get on a board is that only some people will undertake the required research level. In my experience, less than 5% of candidates do the kind and level of research that makes a difference to their board application and pitch.
Start with online research
Comprehensive online research, the level required to get on a board, involves far more than searching through a few websites. You need to delve into the organization, the industry, the business environment, the Board and the role.
Researching the organization
- Visit the organization’s website. Pay particular attention to the about pages, history, news and events. Download any product brochures, sales information, and company documents and reports.
- Look at their company pages on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.
- Read customer reviews and comments on social media.
- Analyze the organization’s performance.
- Make a note of any past, current & future issues.
- Search on external sites for recent and past news articles.
- Register to receive their newsletters and social media feeds.
Researching the competition, the market and relevant industries
- Establish who are the major competitors and what they are doing differently. Complete a competitor analysis.
- Research any relevant industry bodies and professional associations to gain more insight.
- What macro issues or events does the organization face?
- Are there any regulatory issues the organization needs to address?
Researching the Board
- Research the current and past board members. Look at their background and experience. Also, make a note of any common connections or experiences.
- Identify the Board’s role, responsibilities and if any specific skills are required to sit on the Board.
- Identify any skills or knowledge gaps on the Board.
- Look at members’ tenure and turnover.
Find out if there is currently a vacancy and, if so, why?
In-person research takes it to another level
If you want to get on a board, in-person research should always be considered. It can be a game changer and something that most simply do not consider. It is something you may not be used to and will be time-consuming. But if you have time and commitment, you should undertake it. It will make you a more exceptional candidate and may also lead to other Board, personal or professional opportunities.
In-person research involves Engaging and Connecting.
You can engage with the organization in several ways:
A physical visit: If the organization has a physical presence like a shop front, facility or office, visit them. Observe what they do and how they serve their customers.
First-hand experience: look or purchase the organization’s product or service. If the organization’s products are sold or presented alongside the competition, compare the competition’s products and presentation.
Actively analyze promotions:
- If the organization advertises, look for published adverts, and watch television and social media campaigns.
- Take into account the organization’s target market and the effectiveness of its marketing campaigns.
- Compare their competitors’ campaigns.
- Engage in a campaign or promotion where possible.
Contributing: Does the organization offer the opportunity to volunteer? The commitment could be short- or long-term, including committees, event support, community support or pro-bono work.
Connecting involves developing informal relationships with people within or related to the organization or Board. This includes current and past directors. These connections can provide invaluable insights and information you can use during all stages of the board appointment process. At the very least, these connections often open doors to new opportunities.
Your interest in sitting on their Board offers an authentic and legitimate reason to reach out to directors. During the conversation, ask if they can recommend other people they think you should talk to. Then find them on LinkedIn, request to connect and see if they are happy to have a conversation with you. These referrals add to the quality of your in-person research and expand your network.
If you do the level of online research, you should be able to differentiate yourself from the other candidates competing for any board seat. If, in addition, you complete in-person research, you will have the chance to show your true value and level of commitment. This is the extra factor to get a board seat.
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.