- Your Resume: The best resumes for aspiring directors and current non-executive directors are reasonably brief. They are usually three pages (maximum) and highlight professional and educational qualifications, director and non-executive director experience, followed by executive work experience. The resume should be clear and fact based. Your online profile should be aligned to your resume as well.
- The power of LinkedIn: Many directors underestimate the power of social media and online professional networking tools. It is very important to have a high quality LinkedIn profile and resume specifically developed for board opportunities. You need to highlight your board, committee and advisory board experience.
- Strategic Networking: Directors are still typically chosen based on personal recommendations, so get known. Participate in networking activities and events that provide opportunities to meet directors on boards you have an interest in joining. Also do not underestimate the power of accountancy, legal and private equity firms in providing referrals. They are often involved in recommending directors to their clients or investor companies.
- Training: Quality training and credentials are critical. The Next Generation of directors are taking training and credentials very seriously from the large number individuals completing the Company Directors Course or similar governance training programs.
- Find mentors: Seek mentoring and networking opportunities with senior executives, especially CEOs and retired CEOs. These mentors can help you get connected in the right places and will give you a reality check on your brand offering.
- Volunteer: One way to start being noticed is by volunteering in your community with a non-profit board - but choose carefully. One senior director recommends picking one you feel passionate about, because a key role of directors is to assist with fund-raising. And many people find it's easier to lobby for donations when they really care.
- Be a leader: Take leadership positions on the non-profit boards you join, or spearhead important initiatives or special projects. Simply sitting on a board may not be enough to impress others or make you stand out from the crowd.
- Promote yourself: Make sure people know you're interested in joining boards, and communicate your strengths. Confidence sells. Board members say only a lucky few can expect to be courted for boards without making an effort to seek the positions.
It is critical to be clear on what capabilities you bring to the board and which strengths are your differentiators in the highly competitive aspiring director field. Here is a list of a few common mistakes to avoid:
- Never assume that your current or past executive role is an open passport to the boardroom. An industry track record is not enough. Board interactions and processes differ significantly from senior management. The focus shifts from execution to oversight and from operational to strategic analysis.
- Get noticed by not being too pushy or coming across as desperate. Ego and self-image can work against you here. Humility is very important.
- Manage your contacts effectively. Many people mismanage their networks by building imbalances networks, chase the wrong relationships, indiscriminately collect passive social-network contacts or leverage the type of contacts they have ineffectively.
- Prepare before you approach directors for advice. Be thoughtful and considered with your questions and be prepared to have a point of view on the pressing issues. Make sure you pay for the coffee after your meeting.
Henri Eliot is chief executive of Board Dynamics, a consultancy company which provides strategic advice to directors and boards throughout New Zealand and Australia.