Zilla Efrat asks a range of experts for their top tips on how you can brush up on your directorship brand to secure your first or more board positions.
Global Practice Leader – Board Consulting
- The best resumes for emerging and professional non-executive directors (NEDs) are reasonably brief. They are usually three pages (maximum) and highlight qualifications and NED and executive director experience, followed by executive and other work experience. The document should be very clear and fact-based. As a test, it should be easily converted into a profile for a corporate website or an announcement to the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX). LinkedIn profiles are not always proof read by their authors and I recommend you review your online profile regularly to update and check it for errors. If in doubt about your resume or profiles, consider engaging a professional writer to edit and proof read your material.
- Consolidate your professional networking. Like all good business development strategies, it is better to have deep, trusting relationships than many superficial ones. Your networking should also be built around your real interests. Board nomination committees are looking for an authentic alignment between potential candidates and the enterprise and purpose. The biggest mistake potential candidates can make is thinking only of their personal profile and not about what they offer a board. Self-absorption is usually transparent during the selection process.
- Good candidates will work out their own due diligence regime before accepting a role. They will have a list of questions – for example, about strategy, financial sustainability, board and organisational culture and effectiveness, liabilities and insurance claims – which can be explored confidentially. Handled with care, these questions can suggest to the board and company secretary they are dealing with a sophisticated candidate.
- Ensure you have the appropriate approvals in place so you can entertain an offer of appointment to a board. You should review your employment contract or partnership deed or the board charter of your current boards to understand the limits on your ability to accept another board position. Also be alive to potential interests and conflicts of interests that may restrain you from accepting certain roles.
- Develop a clear value proposition. Understanding the real value you can bring to a board or advisory board is essential. Study the boards you wish to join and see if you can identify gaps in their skills and capabilities. Directors need to be able to clearly articulate the skills, experience and capabilities they bring to the boardroom, and demonstrate how these would translate into tangible value for the company.
- Quality training and credentials are critical. There are no shortcuts here. In my opinion, the new breed of directors takes its training and credentials very seriously. As a minimum, completing Company Directors’ Company Director Course is expected at this level of appointment.
- Harness the power of LinkedIn and a quality board profile or resume. Many directors underestimate the power of social media and online professional networking tools. It is important to have a quality LinkedIn profile and a resume specifically developed for board opportunities. You need to showcase your board, committee and advisory board experience correctly. Because the recruitment process is highly competitive, it is important to have a board profile that stands out from the crowd.
- Strategic networking is a must. 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 and private equity firms, who are often involved in recommending directors to their clients or investor companies.
- Top-level executive search firms cannot be ignored. Developing quality relationships with at least two to three top-level board search consultants is a powerful way to fast-track your board career. Keep in mind, however, that executive search consultants and headhunters are often bombarded with high numbers of top executives seeking their first director appointment. Make the most of your opportunity by developing a quality board resume that clearly articulates your board value proposition before approaching any of these entities.
Mistakes to avoid:
- Beware of risking your reputation. Do not join a dysfunctional board. Conduct due diligence on the board and ensure your fellow board members are of a high calibre and that the relationship between the board and major shareholders is strong.
- Beware of easy wins. Certain board positions are far easier to come by than others and as a result, such boards tend to be populated by passionate volunteers who do not necessarily make the most astute business people. Do your research before accepting any position.
Wendy McCarthy MAICD
- Do an annual self-assessment of how you are going as a director, asking yourself: "Am I the best director I can be?" As part of this process, embrace the feedback from your board reviews. This feedback can sometimes come as quite a surprise. Try to learn from it.
- Talk to other directors on your board. They may be able to recommend you if they know of other boards looking for a new director.
- Finding a mentor is important and can be valuable, but you should generally pick someone who does not sit on the same boards as you and who can act as an independent adviser.
- Know what you want your brand to be – for example, an ethical director with integrity and a strong work ethic – and then build your brand around this through your performance.
Mistakes to avoid:
- Joining a board with a sense of entitlement. It is a privilege to be involved in governance, not a job created for you.
- Do not hound those who have indicated they might be able to help you obtain a board seat. For these contacts, there is a fine line between someone expressing interest in you and them being able to enter proper discussions with you. Be patient!
- Present your brand consistently. Your CV, how you present yourself in interviews and what people say about you should all be perfectly aligned.
- Think beyond your functional expertise. You need to contribute more broadly on a board. Your brand must be well rounded.
- Find mentors who can help you get connected in the right places and who will give you a reality check on your brand offering.
- Remember to talk about your values, not just your capabilities and experience. Boards want to know what is important to you and what you are passionate about. Do your brand values fit with the organisation’s brand values?
- Brands have distinct personalities. Think IBM vs Apple. Are you a safe pair of hands or a lateral thinker? Are you outgoing or a quiet achiever? Let your personality show in your CV with use of language and expression. Boards want to know not just what you can do, but whether you are the kind of person they are looking for.
The Talent Advisors
- Be very clear on what capabilities you bring to the board and which strengths are differentiators in the hyper-competitive aspiring-director field. Align these attributes consistently to everything you do and say. A professional LinkedIn profile should reinforce your "story" when your name gets entered into a search engine. It is also likely that you carry a label, such as "she’s the lawyer" or "he’s the accountant", so map out how you will convince nominations committee members you can contribute to their specific board. This includes a well-articulated board resume that strongly builds the case for your seat at the table.
- Make purposeful choices. Concentrate on those activities that matter most to achieve your board search goals. While you may target sectors or organisations, consider the board composition and chairman profile of particular boards. Analyse the director vacancy landscape carefully to identify where to focus, the gaps in the market, where your skills will be of real benefit, which networking events to attend and how to maximise your "return on effort".
- Reputation is earned. Respect and trust from, and of, your prospective fellow directors builds over time. Be congruent – "how" is as important as "what". Join committees so you can be seen in action and become known. Your "presence" should be confident, fully engaged and articulate. Dynamics within a collegiate boardroom rely on judicious observation, listening and comment, so demonstrate these behaviours.
- Extend your reach. Gaining visibility and messaging your aspirations requires considered thought. Many directors connect with industry groups or auditors, compensation consultants and lawyers who service board clients. Others express interest to those involved in initial public offerings or private equity. This should get you on the radar of search firms and senior directors.
- Nurture relationships. Do not take it for granted that people know how to specifically support you or the quality of your boardroom contribution. While a mentor will help you "find your voice", more importantly, a sponsor "gets your voice heard at the table". Having these people speak on your behalf can avoid the self-promotion dilemma – the need to assert your competence while knowing people who do self-promote may be viewed negatively. Then reciprocate and support others.
Mistakes to avoid:
- Do not assume your corporate role is an open passport. An industry track record is not enough for directorship. Board interactions and processes differ significantly from corporate management. The skill shifts involve moving from execution to oversight and from operational tactics to strategic analysis.
- Do not go in too hard. Get noticed without becoming pushy or coming across as desperate. Ego and self-image can work for or against you. Influencing is a key director skill.
- Not all contacts count. Many people mismanage networking. They build imbalanced networks, chase the wrong relationships, indiscriminately collect passive social-network contacts or leverage the type of contacts they have ineffectively.
- Do not ignore the noise. There are usually four themes that underpin an undercurrent of so-called "noise" about, and around, a potential director candidate: capability, style, motive and commitment. If perceptions are deep-seated, they may have been formed over years, so it requires consistent effort to change them.
- Do not wing it. Plan and rehearse before you approach directors for advice. Be thoughtful and considered with your questions. Do not be surprised if you start to be interviewed – so be prepared and have a view on the pressing issues. And yes, be gracious, including picking up the tab for coffee.
Using social media
The paradigm of influence is shifting and more emphasis is now placed on how connected and influential an individual is online. As such, social media can be a powerful medium to help aspiring company directors to land a seat on a board.
"If you’re not using social media effectively, you’re likely to be missing out on new opportunities," warns Catriona Pollard, a director of CP Communications.
"Social media is a set of tools that create conversations, connections and sharing of information. It’s a powerful communications tool. It is networking on steroids and a serious connector for building your profile in front of your target audience. After all, business is most often about who you know, not what you know."
Pollard’s top five tips for using social media to gain a board position are:
- Actively build your reputation. Reputation is the new currency and it is all about building trust. So start building your online reputation. Start a YouTube channel offering tips. Write guest articles on blogs your influencers read. Offer free, amazing content on your website or blog. On social networking sites, offer helpful information, share interesting links and content, and interact with people. Soon, you’ll hear yourself being talked about as "great to work with", "very authentic" and "recommended".
- Pick the right platforms. There are many social media platforms to choose from, but with limited time available my top two recommendations for you to spend time cultivating your profile on are LinkedIn and blogging. LinkedIn connects you with thousands of other professionals around the world. On your personal profile you can share your career, education and skills. You can also post updates that will come up in the feed of your connections. Try sharing articles related to your area of work or industry.
- Having your own blog will allow you to share your expertise within your career or industry. Write posts about what is happening in your industry, advice or "how-to" articles and commentary on important issues relating to the board you want to become a member of. Blogging is the number one way to build your profile as an expert in your area.
- Make the most of LinkedIn. LinkedIn is online networking and the room is full of people you want to know and build relationships with. Connections are key on this platform. As with "real-life" networking, people would much rather work with people their associates are connected to. Build your connections by adding people you have met at functions, your clients or customers and colleagues, past and present. You want to reach the key influencers in your industry and people already on the boards you are targeting. Search for them on LinkedIn and if you have connections in common, try to get an introduction so you can link with them. Also, join any LinkedIn groups they are a part of and start posting articles and comments in the group. They will soon start to notice you.
- Social media is about creating connections. Do not just use the connections you already have. Figure out who you need to know to land the board position and make that connection. Whether it’s by getting them to follow you on Twitter, retweeting their tweets, connecting with them on LinkedIn or sharing your blog with them, find those key people and connect with them, building your profile and showcasing your expertise.
- Listen to your excuses. If the first thing that comes to mind when you think of social media is "I don’t have time", recognise that as an excuse. Do not let "lack of time" be a social media deal-breaker. Watch others, start slowly, ask for help, outsource it to an expert, have no fear, find a mentor, use Google to get useful tips and set your end goal – it is a marathon, not a sprint.
How we can help
We offer the following services which can help you build your directorship brand:
LinkedIn Member Group: More than 9,000 people have joined the Australian Institute of Company Directors members-only group, which is a valuable tool for accessing relevant information when you need it and a good way to network with your fellow directors.
Developing your Director Career: This half-day course provides guidance on how to develop your resume and find your first or next board position. It will also help you to articulate your value proposition as a director.
Directorship Opportunities: This is Australia’s leading listing service for board and advisory panel vacancies. It features, on average, more than 40 new adverts for board positions a month which can only be viewed by our members and has resulted in over 600 successful appointments to date.
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