Boards have always had their allure, but today, more than ever, they’re red hot. And so they should be. Being on a board can be a career boost, and contribute to your bank account too, but being on a board is a serious commitment with responsibilities that shouldn’t be underestimated. I encourage you to strive to be on the right board, to make a significant value-add to the board(s) you join and to know where you want to make a positive difference– be prepared to honor your commitment when you get your board seat.
But how do you get a board seat? Here are my top 5 tips.
- Be cognizant and crystal clear about your skills and talents. They are the assets that you will market to entice a board to have you around the table. Make sure your resume is up-to-date and outlines the skills that are ‘a must’ for consideration as a board candidate. You can consider creating a ‘board resume’. As you explore a board opportunity be cognizant of the skills that you have which compliment the skillset of boards that you are seeking. Many boards do not have as strong of a board composition as they should have. The skills most in demand by boards vary. If you target a public board, there are “must have” skills:
- Board governance, board composition, board dynamics
- Board experience for advisory, non-profit, private and public boards. If you have not been on them, state what you have you done
- Financial skills are always hot for joining or leading the audit committee. At the end of the day, boards duty is to shareholders and shareholders want a return which is displayed through sound financials
- Experience with the IPO process, M&As, strategy are valuable. State your leadership role
- Global and international markets strategic experience are important given that companies must grow beyond their home market and that M&As are still a preferred exist strategy and are growing across borders
- Risk assessment
- Cyber expertise
- Operations and corporate strategy leadership
- Technology and big data are key assets of any corporation of any size. To understand technology and data, and emerging technologies such as social media are critical as foundational skills
- Network, strategic partnerships
- Human resources skills are important specially with the importance of compensation committees
- Know your value-add and how you will augment the composition of a board
- Do your due diligence. Make sure you are absolutely clear about the kind of board you want to join and why you want to join a board. There are four types of boards to join: advisory boards, non-profit, private and public. If you have never been on any kind of board, start getting involved with a non-profit by minimally being part of an advisory board or/and chairing it; join a non-profit board that has a mission that you are passionate about and align with. If you are not on any boards and are not joining any boards, be sure you gain the experience of presenting to boards and developing a relationship with board members that you can have access to.Prioritize and determine which board table you want to target. Identify the industry, the company, the chair or board members that you believe you can and would like to join. Look-up boards that might interest you and check the term of their members and their nomination process. Carefully and realistically assess if you are the one they want at the table. Check your network and your linkedin network and identify who can possibly help you position yourself to be nominated. Submit your resume to leading executive recruiting firms that have a board recruiting practice, and to board organizations and associations that have the clout to recommend you as a potential board member, as many are aware of future board opportunities.
- Get educated and up to speed. If you don’t know how a board works, you need to learn how a board operates before you present yourself as a candidate. Get educated about boards and join organizations where you can learn more about boards and network with other people who want to be on boards and are serving on a board. Consider getting a board certification, while I don’t believe it is necessary it is a nice to have. Proven leadership experience and results track-record, integrity, leadership maturity and a strong network are more relevant than getting certificated. However, understanding how boards are governed is very important. Don’t assume that you understand it; get educated. Practical strategic experience and a strong network are more relevant than getting certificates.
- Don’t keep “it” (your desire to join a board) a secret. Tell your influential friends, your clients, your partners and colleagues that you want to join a board, but most importantly the kind of board that you would like to join. If you have access to board members where you work, make sure they know that you are interested, ask if they can open doors for you, gain their insights and enlist them to introduce you to some of their colleagues. Aim high. If you have a lot to offer, do not take it personally and be perseverant.
- Be realistic. While you need to be confident, you need to be humble and know how you compare. You should avoid seeking a seat when you don’t have stellar credentials and a track record to support it. Focus on becoming a great leader, a strong entrepreneur, an investor and/or an executive that has solid financial, operational, marketing and corporate management experience aspiring to become an outstanding board member.
Bonus tip: Avoid just getting on any board for the sake of being on a board or to have it on your resume. Organizations can’t afford to have less than a 100% devoted board member. If you don’t respect the other members or the chair, you are getting a warning; listen to your gut feeling and consider not joining. Join a board where you feel in alignment with the chair and the other members; you are interviewing just as much as they are interviewing you. There is no need to be on the wrong board for you.
Similarly, avoid being on too many boards! (I will address this topic in the future.)