Many c-suite and senior-level executives focus their job search efforts on landing a Board of Directors role. They’re the kind of candidates Boards typically covet.
Executive job seekers often ask me what they need to do differently in their job search to land a Board role.
The Difference Between the Two Basic Types of Boards of Directors
FOR-Profit Boards of Directors:
Because these Boards serve profit-making companies, members of the Board are financially compensated for their roles, often lucratively. Top corporations on average pay Board members salaries in excess of $200,000, and there may be other financial perks.
It stands to reason that these plum Board roles are in demand by c-suite and top-level executives, so the competition for them is fierce.
NON-Profit Boards of Directors:
These Board members are typically volunteers who are not compensated by the organization. Additionally, they may be encouraged, or even expected, to donate not only their time, but financial resources as well.
How To Land a Board of Directors Role
The best job search strategy to land a Board of Directors role for either a for-profit company or non-profit organization is much the same as for any executive job:
Targeting and Research
Start with targeting and research, to identify specific Boards that will be a mutual good fit, what problems the companies are facing right now and what specific areas of expertise you have that the Boards are looking for.
Define your personal brand around the personal attributes, values, passions and other qualifications you possess that will resonate with the Boards you’re targeting.
Job Search Content Writing
Write content for your executive resume, biography, LinkedIn profile, and other job search materials that will position you as the expert and/or problem solver they need.
To appeal to board recruiters and board nominating committees, Career Directors International (CDI) advises that your resume for a Board of Directors role should focus on corporate outcomes, metrics, and financial results, including:
- Big-big picture such as impact on the market and on the GDP of your state, your province, or your country
- Significant P&L
- The ability to critically read and interpret the balance sheet
- Regulatory compliance
- Crises management
- Areas of expertise, especially emerging issues, including cybersecurity and digital exposure
- Scientific knowledge and its subsequent commercialization
- Mergers, acquisitions, and integrations
- IPOs and your connection to capital markets
- Creativity to produce unique capital structures
- Conference keynotes, panel participation, and media exposure
Also important, highlight any previous Board experience you’ve had, whether for a for-profit or non-profit organization.
Your biography is particularly important for personal branding. Strong bios rely on storytelling, which helps people assessing you get a much better feel for your personality and values, and the way you operate, than a resume does.
Your LinkedIn profile needs to align with the branding in your resume and bio.
Networking matters! Most Board roles are filled through personal connections. According to (CDI),
“Boards hire directors who have deep professional networks, including customers, regulators, shareholders, and potential investors.”
Use your robust network to network your way into Board of Directors roles by connecting with existing Board members and those who know them, executive recruiters specializing in Board recruitment, and others at Board companies. You can find a lot of these people on LinkedIn. Also, join groups (on LinkedIn and elsewhere) that focus on Board of Directors.
FOR-profit Boards of Directors look for different things in candidates than NON-profit Boards.
Semi-retirement coach Nancy Collamer laid out the distinction between requirements for non-profit vs. for-profit Boards. These are generalizations. Rely on your targeting and research work to pin this down more specifically:
FOR-profit Boards want people with:
“proven expertise starting, running and growing successful businesses . . . and specific skill-sets, such as financial or legal expertise. Board members must weigh in on critical topics like succession planning, crisis management and acquisitions, so the requirements for these positions are significant.”
NON-profit Boards want people with:
“a wide range of skills. But they want people who can contribute expertise in running nonprofit programs, managing community relations and fundraising as well. Often, the main qualifications to serve on a nonprofit board are simply having a willingness to do so and a sincere commitment to the organization. If you’re a well-connected community member who can serve as an ambassador for the organization, that’s an added bonus.”
She continues with tips to land these Board of Directors roles.
To land a FOR-Profit Board job:
- Serve on non-profit Boards first, to prove your value and capabilities.
- Review annual proxy statements for the Boards of publicly traded firms.
- Research the sitting Board members and network your way towards them.
- Use LinkedIn for company and Board member research.
- Sign up for BoardProspects.com, an online platform for Board members.
- Get involved with relevant trade and professional associations.
- Get referrals to executive recruiters specializing in Board roles, like Spencer Stuart and RSR Partners.
To Land a NON-profit Board job:
Choose organizations you know and/or causes that are meaningful to you.
If you’re already involved with an organization, you have an in, and may know some of the Board members. Present yourself as a candidate.
If you know no one at an organization you’re targeting, put some time in volunteering there, before presenting yourself to the Board.
When assessing organizations for good mutual fit, answer these questions:
- What are the values and goals of this Board? Do they align with mine?
- Will my expertise add value to this organization? In what ways?
- Are this Board’s time and financial commitments ones that I am willing to invest?
The Special Challenges in Landing a FOR-Profit Board of Directors Role
As suggested earlier, with such fierce competition, for-profit Board roles can be much more difficult to land . . . and they often come with a Catch-22.
These Boards tend to be exclusive and conservative, and typically want candidates who have already proven themselves by serving on other Boards.
So, how do you get your foot in the door with for-profits?
Fred Hassan (managing director of PE firm Warburg Pincus) and Ken Banta (founder of the Vanguard Forum) say for-profits select members based on two criteria – capabilities and character:
“Start with capabilities. Assess yourself not only as a sector expert but also as an executive with special competences and map those attributes against the market’s needs. What are your special skills – digital marketing know-how you learned in fast-moving consumer goods? Or perhaps expertise in managing clinical trials you learned in biopharma? Or is it your knowledge of how to work with regulators in highly regulated industries?”
Moving on to the tougher piece – character – they note the 5 character basics you need to be strong on:
- Judging others
- Raising questions
- Earning trust
- Emotional Intelligence (EQ)
Be ready for Boards’ due diligence
One important caution from executive career strategist Michelle Dumas:
“You will be vetted thoroughly and due diligence will be deep. Consider disclosing any potential negatives in your background early in the process. They will almost surely find them anyhow and your disclosure shows you are forthcoming and helps you build trust. Carefully audit and clean up your social media presence. This WILL be reviewed when you are being considered as a board candidate. No matter how private you think your settings are, remove ALL unflattering photos and controversial posts.”