How to get a board of directors position

If you’re craving a challenge or a new outlet for your expertise, joining a board of directors can tick a multitude of boxes. Here’s how to get your foot in the door.

By Beth Wallace

Not all organisations are legally obligated to install a board of directors, yet many choose these “gatekeepers” to steer them towards success. Whether comprised of executive directors who are involved in the operational aspects of the business, or independent non-executive directors, the best boards bring the right mix of skills, abilities and perspectives to the table.

While companies will differ in their search for the ideal director, there are certain characteristics relevant to every role, says Women on Boards (WOB) co-founder Ruth Medd FCPA.

“You’d be a pretty brave board to take on someone who didn’t understand directors’ duties and a profit-and-loss statement,” she says, adding that people with a finance background, in particular, are highly sought after for board positions.

Think you have what it takes to join a board of directors? Follow these steps to kickstart your search.

Update your CV

The standard rules of resume-writing apply to board roles: keep it concise and customised to the organisation you’re hoping to join. Medd also urges candidates to articulate their value proposition, advising: “A board CV should be a sales pitch, in which you explain how you can add value to the business.”

To ascertain what companies are looking for, read their annual report, as well as the LinkedIn profiles of past and present directors.

“They might list skill sets like strategic planning and policy development, relevant technical and industry knowledge, and stakeholder relations,” Medd says, adding that personal characteristics such as integrity and interpersonal skills, while important, are generally considered at interview stage.

Network, network, network

Once upon a time, board appointments relied almost entirely on a candidate’s networking abilities. While we now have other options – like advertising interest on LinkedIn or applying through board registers – networking remains a powerful tool.

“If you're an aspiring director, you've got to build your network and get the message out that you're looking,” Medd says. “Go to events where you meet directors, because quite often people are asked if they know someone suitable for a vacancy.”

Plot your trajectory

Unless you’re the chief executive officer (CEO) of a listed company, your first foray into the boardroom will most likely be a small affair – perhaps volunteering for an industry committee or not-for-profit board. Although such posts can provide invaluable experience, Medd warns that they won’t always take you where you want to go.

“The trick is to think strategically about where to start,” she says. “Applying for a role with a small not-for-profit in your neighbourhood might be OK, but don't think that will necessarily lead you to a glorious board career.”

Understand the commitment

Your directorial debut should ideally last several years, during which time you’ll be expected to read board papers, participate in meetings (often monthly or bimonthly), join several committees and attend various ad hoc events.

“Large listed companies typically require a commitment of six to eight days a month and a government board might be one to two days a month,” Medd explains.

In some cases – particularly at the beginning of your board career – you may not be financially compensated for your time. However, a board role can offer myriad other rewards: the opportunity to broaden your perspective, build a new network and pursue a different style of professional activity.

“You might get a big buzz out of doing something worthy, whether that’s giving back to the community through a not-for-profit or furthering the cause of a company in its early stages,” Medd says. “It really can be quite rewarding.”

An Master of Leadership from Deakin could help you build the skills and network to secure a board of directors position.

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October 2021
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