How to navigate the executive search process as a minority

AboveBoard | May 11, 2022

Capitalize on your strengths, convey your story as a diverse executive.

More companies than ever are seeking diverse or minority executives to take the lead.  

In fact, a global survey of more than 300 executive search professionals said diversity would be "highly important" to their clients in 2019. And the emphasis on diversity has only grown since then, catapulted by the killing of George Floyd in 2020 and the pandemic’s ongoing workplace shake-up, i.e. the Great Reshuffling. Diversity is not only mandated in some areas, it’s also becoming increasingly expected by consumers, stakeholders, and the general public.

“We’re at a moment in time when companies aren’t going to tolerate not having a diverse slate; it truly puts them at risk,” Ayana Parsons, head of Board & CEO Inclusion at Korn Ferry, told the Wall Street Journal.

As a minority CEO or diversity executive candidate, know that your skills and expertise are wanted and your story valued. But how do you go about connecting your experiences with the right executive or C-suite job opportunity? In this article, we’ll provide a fundamental overview of the minority executive search process so you can begin this journey with confidence.

Minority executive search tip No. 1: Cultivate your network

The importance of networking cannot be overstated, especially as it concerns your executive search. Maintaining and cultivating your network is key. In the process of doing so, you’ll boost your visibility to prospective companies, boards, and executive search firms while also positioning yourself as an expert in your field. Plus, meeting new people can grow your network and sharpen your interpersonal and interviewing skills. It’s a win-win! 

Strategies to build your network include: 

  • Attending industry events, seminars, conferences, and webinars. Even better, volunteer to help, speak, or lead at these functions.
  • Joining professional associations related to your field. 
  • Positioning yourself as a thought leader via articles published through your organization, an industry publication, or even a simple LinkedIn blog.

One of the advantages of tapping and cultivating your network is that it’s something you can do before you officially begin your executive search process. Not sure when you want to take on a new role? That’s OK—begin cultivating your network today; you’ll reap the benefits now and later.

Minority executive search tip No. 2: Elevate your background and expertise

Your specific blend of professional and personal experiences is what sets you apart as a minority CEO or diversity executive, but how do you bring it up in a way that’s genuine, authentic, and does not invoke tokenism? (Tokenism is "the practice of doing something (such as hiring a person who belongs to a minority group only to prevent criticism and give the appearance that people are being treated fairly," per a Vanderbilt University panel on diversity and tokenism in business.)

It’s important to tell your story, and it's essential to do so in a way that shows recruiters and interviewers that you check multiple boxes in addition to the “diversity box.” 

One key way to tell your diversity story is to relay relevant anecdotes or on-the-job experiences that intersect with your diversity, professional skills, and the executive role you’re seeking. For example, as a minority CEO, you may have unmatched expertise in bringing together different groups of professionals together to meet or exceed company objectives. In this case, you could talk about specific ways in which your background equipped you to do so effectively. Review our list of common executive interview questions for opportunities to tell your diversity executive story.

Another way to naturally highlight your diversity is through your involvement in professional or community associations. Seeing this on your CV or resume can demonstrate to hiring professionals that you’re committed to advancing diversity. If asked about your community engagement in interviews, use it as an opportunity to showcase your personal story where appropriate, whether it’s your commitment to professional development, social justice, or an homage to your family’s background.

Remember, these are just a few of the many avenues in which you can tell your story during the minority executive search process while pointing to your professional qualifications. Ultimately, this can help ensure that the organization you're interviewing with sees you for everything you bring to the table, rather than just one particular quality. 

“For those of us who are new to particular spaces, we need to avail ourselves of every opportunity to build relationships,” said Melissa Thomas-Hunt, Vanderbilt's Vice Provost for Inclusive Excellence and Professor of Management. 

“Sometimes it is going to be because of tokenism, but it’s what you bring to it (that matters)…so step into it.”

Minority executive search tip No. 3: Know what to expect

The hiring process for a minority CEO or diversity executive typically follows two traditional avenues. You may be contacted by a recruiter from a minority-owned executive search firm or even by a company representative directly. Either way, it’s likely you’ll have gone through or will go through the following steps, per AboveBoard’s report, "The Ins and Outs of Executive Recruiting:"

  1. Long lists – An initial list, usually with 100 or more potential candidates
  2. Initial outreach – Often contact via phone, email, or LinkedIn
  3. Phone screens – Brief calls about your experience, interest, and expectations 
  4. Initial interviews – Usually interviews with the hiring firm
  5. Short lists – Roster of candidates who will interview directly with the company
  6. Company interviews – This can vary by the organization, e.g. multiple rounds of interviews, dinner, social events, etc.  
  7. Offers – Final selection, receive details about compensation package 

But the COVID-19 pandemic's myriad impacts also include changes in the executive recruiting process, per the Wall Street Journal

The shift to remote work has accelerated the executive search in many ways, with virtual interviews shortening the overall process from roughly four to eight weeks in total rather than a typical months-long search. 

And thanks to the increased accessibility of virtual interviews, the applicant pool for executives has also broadened, particularly for minority CEOs and diverse executives. This is a pivotal change for a process whose traditional models—relying on either the company’s or the search firm’s connections—are inherently exclusionary.

“If you aren’t already connected to the company or firm, the opportunity is not accessible,” per AboveBoard's report. “Moreover, women, black, Latinx/Hispanic, and other minority groups are historically underrepresented in search firms, on boards and on executive teams. These processes perpetuate a cycle of underrepresentation in the executive ranks. Companies are limiting their reach and executives are denied opportunities.”

That’s why AboveBoard is working to bridge the gap between available opportunities in C-suites and boards across the country and the qualified, diverse candidates ready to step into those roles.

Connect with minority CEOs at AboveBoard

While traditional methods of executive hiring often leave out minority CEOs and other diversity executives, AboveBoard is here to change that.

Through our inclusive hiring platform, executive and C-suite level candidates can connect directly to the opportunities that will take their careers to new heights. What’s more, our partner organizations and posted opportunities all value diversity, equity, and inclusion. Join AboveBoard today to get started.

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AboveBoard is an executive hiring platform that connects qualified executives with board and full-time opportunities. We are expanding access for underrepresented groups of executives—particularly Black, Latinx, and women. To join visit

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