You must address career gaps when applying for a board seat

career gaps in board seat application

People are often concerned about how career gaps or issues might impact their prospects when applying for a board seat. These concerns include failed business endeavours, periods out of the workforce, gaps in career progression, conflicts, dismissals, layoffs, and inconsistent employment backgrounds.

There is reassuring news if you have concerns about pursuing an independent director seat or governance role due to any of these or similar reasons. As long as you have never faced director disqualification and issues such as career gaps are addressed properly, they rarely pose a significant obstacle to your potential appointment.

Here are my recommendations

Never ignore the elephant in the room

Ignoring potential issues such as career gaps is not advisable. I assure you that whoever reads your board application or interviews will notice it. So tackle it head-on and address any gaps or potential issues directly in your board cover letter. The truth will come out eventually; it is better to be upfront about it. Hiding information may lead to assumptions that are worse than the reality.

Avoiding the issue can lead to distrust and perceived risks for the board or Chair, which will likely result in your board application being rejected in the early stages.

Be honest

Avoid trying to sugarcoat a failed business experience to make it seem more valuable to others. Be honest about the situation and move on. Focus on examples of success instead of trying to convince others of the positives from a failed experience. Address the issue and redirect the conversation towards other areas where you can demonstrate your successes.

Be well prepared for the questions and objections

When discussing career gaps or blemishes, be prepared for questions. Avoid giving vague answers that may make it seem like you are hiding something. Own up to your history and be as detailed as possible. After addressing the issue, shift the conversation to examples of your successes. Being upfront early on will give you more control over the discussion and help address any objections.

Focus on their needs and how you can offer assistance

When writing your application documents, focus on the needs of the organization and board. It is important to know your own value and be able to communicate this in your board value position (BVP). You must demonstrate that your experience, skills, and passion are valuable. Conduct thorough research to understand the issues the organization is facing and how you can contribute. Present yourself as proactive, intelligent, connected, informed, and committed. By doing so, decision-makers can effectively counteract any career gaps or issues.

Finding the perfect board candidate is challenging

Boards and chairs seek candidates who can fulfil the job requirements and complement their existing skills and knowledge rather than expecting perfection.

Gaps, blips, or blemishes are not as significant as you may believe. Board seat candidates often feel pressured to be flawless, but perfection is not expected. Don’t strive for perfection because it’s not necessary for success.

Challenge them to appoint you, flaws and all

Emphasizing strategic accomplishments, providing value, and building genuine connections can help allay career gaps and shortcomings.

According to a recent study, having a strong recommendation from a current or past board member carries more weight than meeting all the appointment criteria. Therefore, it is advised to prioritize cultivating strong relationships and connections.

To increase your chances of being chosen for a board seat, it is important to thoroughly research and connect with the organization, board members, past members, clients, and partners. This research and networking can help address any career-related fears and uncover hidden board opportunities. This strategy is one of many that we share with our Board Appointment Coaching Program.

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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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