You're ready to secure your first seat on a board of directors. But how do you get there?
Whether you're a seasoned executive or new to the C-suite, and to board service as a whole, navigating the executive board member search process can feel daunting at first. However, it is possible to feel as confident in your executive search as you do in your job. That's why we collaborated with AboveBoard partner, the Harvard Business School African American Alumni Association (HBSAAAA), to bring you insights on how to land your first board role.
In this article, we'll dive into steps you can take today to prepare for board leadership and offer practical takeaways to help you secure your first board seat.
How to prepare for board leadership
Boards add new members who bring specific, needed skill sets to the table. Sought after expertises include, but are not limited to, Profit & Loss (P&L) ownership, digital marketing, and cybersecurity. While a board's needs will vary by organization and other factors, like what's going on in the economy, one thing remains the same: knowing and owning your story. Ahead, we'll outline ways you can lean into your background, skillset, and areas of expertise to tell a compelling narrative and grow as a professional. The steps to secure a board role all begin with knowing what you have to offer and identifying the areas in which you can learn, grow, and improve.
Craft your narrative
Start out by defining your sphere of expertise and the tangible skills you will bring to a boardroom. In doing so, you'll be laying the groundwork for developing your board biography. “A strategically crafted board bio is key to translating your career and life experiences into a story that best positions you for board opportunities,” according to Debbie McCormack, managing director for Deloitte LLP’s Center for Board Effectiveness. Think of a board biography as an ultra-tailored cover letter customized for a specific board opportunity. In it, you'll offer an overview of who you are and your personal brand, then go into detail about relevant experiences that have equipped you for board service.
Focus on upskilling
Now that you've defined your story, it's time to consider any gaps in experience or knowledge. For some folks, participating in a board certification or readiness program may be one of the needed steps to securing a board role. If you have the resources to engage in a program like this, it can be a great way to gain new skills/insights and build confidence along the way.
Some board readiness programs and resources include:
- Athena. Athena, an AboveBoard partner, is a women's leadership development organization focused on women in STEM.
- Athena Alliance. AboveBoard partner Athena Alliance is a virtual community empowering women in the C-suite, boardroom, and beyond.
- Harvard Business School. A household name, Harvard Business School offers a variety of executive education resources.
- Latino Corporate Directors Association. The LCDA, also an AboveBoard partner, offers the BoardReady Institute Curriculum.
- National Association of Corporate Directors. A longstanding member organization for corporate directors, the NACD offers members the NACD Directorship Certification.
Don't discount small steps
Looking to establish experience in the process of joining a board? Consider joining the board of a local nonprofit organization, community organization, or a local school. But don't just settle for any available opportunity. Assess whether the board role would give you the experience you need. For example, if the organization is undergoing a major transformation, that's likely to offer you an up-close, hands-on look at leading through times of change. If the board is composed of other seasoned executives, it could be a great learning and a great networking opportunity. And if the role requires setting and executing against a complex business strategy? Even better.
Steps to secure a board role
Engage your network
The majority of board roles are filled without the use of external recruiting firms, meaning engaging your network will be essential for securing your first board seat. Most often, existing board members, company investors, or the nomination and governance committee members are the ones filling board seats. Engaging your network can look like 1) building new connections, particularly connections that can lead to a board seat, e..g in your area of expertise, interest or 2) reconnecting with colleagues and acquaintances.
Tell your story
It's not enough to have a large professional network. That alone won't help you figure out how to land your first board role. Remember the narrative you crafted earlier? Start sharing it, or at least pieces of your story, with your network. This entails clearly communicating your interest in board roles to your colleagues, mentors, and peers. That way, your name will be top of mind when the next available opportunity rolls around.
Think outside of the box
Landing your first board seat will take more than defining your story and activating your network, though those steps are certainly important. Next up, you'll want to think outside of the traditional executive recruitment paradigm. Resources like AboveBoard can help simplify your search while opening up typically hidden or closed-off opportunities.
Find your next boardroom opportunity on AboveBoard
AboveBoard’s platform empowers those who have been historically excluded in the executive ranks to have more agency in their careers through open access to opportunity. Our platform facilitates a paradigm shift from an exclusive, closed-network process to a transparent and fair system that prioritizes excellence and inclusion. On AboveBoard's inclusive executive search platform, seasoned executives have clear, direct access to senior leadership opportunities at today's top organizations. Join AboveBoard today to connect with your next opportunity.