At some point in your career, if you have achieved a certain of success as an executive, you may be considering a corporate board role as a possible and logical next step. Yet the process of creating a “board pitch” can take you out of your comfort zone, as it requires you to view your career through an entirely new lens.
Boards want candidates who are poised to lead an organization and leave the day-to-day administration to someone else (i.e., management). They are focused on high-level, high-impact decision-making, so as you brand yourself and prepare your “why me?” pitch, these are the qualities that should come into greatest focus.
Here are some key points to consider:
The audience for your board pitch should be a carefully selected group of individuals that includes networking contacts, board recruiters, board-marketplace groups and the actual target boards of directors:
(1) Networking Contacts. Your networking contacts often serve as the most fertile ground for your board pitch, as the majority of board roles come from board members’ current networks and word-of-mouth communications. (The percentage of public board roles filled from these sources is nearly 70%, according to a recent survey by the National Association of Corporate Directors.)
If your current network does not include CEOs, sitting board members and others with access to boards, I suggest that – before you consider yourself ready for a board role – you take steps to expand your network in that direction. (My next post in this series will explore how to make connections to land a corporate board seat.)
If your current network does include the right mix of networking contacts, you will need to muster up the courage, gravitas and good sense to leverage those connections and create mutual benefit for you and the individuals who will be referring you. In other words, the benefit to you is the chance to make your pitch to the right audience, and the benefit to your networking contact is to have successfully delivered a viable, poised and compelling board candidate.
(2) Board Recruiters. There are a number of recruiters who routinely conduct and complete board searches, and many of them are focused on expanding the talent pool beyond the “usual suspects” of traditional board candidates. (I have posted links to some of the top recruiters here.)
The best corporate board recruiters will have an in-depth understanding of the companies with which they are placing candidates, including corporate strategy, board dynamics and culture fit. Getting in front of these recruiters can often be as difficult as getting in front of the boards themselves, so you may need to rely on your network for introductions here as well.
In any case, take care not to get ahead of yourself. In today’s world, don’t expect many recruiters to have the bandwidth to help you assess whether you are ready for a board role, especially a recruiter you do not know well. Recruiters are hit with too many candidates vying for their time – for board search as well as job search – to be able to provide that level of hands-on, personalized attention to all but a handful of candidates. Instead, prepare yourself as a board-ready candidate with a convincing elevator pitch first, then approach the recruiter, so you do not lose that ephemeral chance to make a solid first impression.
(3) Board-Readiness, Education and Marketplace Groups. There is a range of organizations that can help you prepare yourself for a board role and/or broadcast your candidacy to a wider audience, with differing barriers to entry and effectiveness. In addition, many graduate schools of business offer executive education in corporate governance for board members. Links to some of these organizations and aggregator sites with further links are here. For many of them, you will need to submit an application, which may include some of the documents I list below.
(4) Actual Board Targets. Lastly, don’t forget that the ultimate and most important audience to whom you will be pitching is the specific board itself, namely the Nominating & Governance Committee in most cases and thereafter the wider board. Do your diligence on the board and company so that you can speak directly to their needs for a new board member.
Your “Portfolio” of Board-Ready Communications
While the above constituencies are the audiences to whom you should make your desire to join a corporate board of directors known, there is also the question of how you can best communicate your pitch to join a board. I have mentioned above that before you formally start the process of consistently putting yourself out there for a role, you should make sure you are a board-ready candidate. In addition to gaining the right experience to be a compelling candidate, here are the different and related means of verbal and written communication to have at your disposal:
(1) Board Biography. Your central document as a board candidate is the board bio, which is often a short narrative (one to two pages, sometimes with attachments) that presents you in third person and illuminates the value you bring to the board, including leadership, industry and substantive experience and what can be loosely described as “caché.” Unlike a traditional U.S. resume, it also may include a small photo in the top right or left hand corner.
The board bio should be clean, inviting, well-written and distilled. If you have current or former board or committee service, including with non-profit entities, this is often listed near the top. Significant honors or awards, certifications and educational qualifications should also be included, with the aim to produce a document that signals you are of the right quality and caliber for a board role without sounding stuck on yourself.
(2) Value Proposition and Elevator Pitch. Building on the exercise of creating a board bio, you can further distill what you offer a board into a short value proposition that can serve as the basis for an email or cover letter regarding your board candidacy as well as an elevator pitch that you can give (and tailor more specifically to) one of your target audiences.
(3) Board Resume. Sometimes, a board resume is also requested during the board search process, although it is less commonly used than the board bio. The board resume differs from an executive resume principally in its emphasis on those accomplishments and characteristics that would be relevant to board service. I will cover board bios and resumes further in Part 6 of the corporate board series.
(4) LinkedIn. Just as you make your network aware of your availability for and interest in a board role through informal conversations and other interactions, you can take another look at your LinkedIn profile to determine whether it conveys your board-ready expertise and gravitas or could use some more help in that regard. I will give some specific suggestions for LinkedIn profiles as they relate to seeking out a board role in Part 7 of this series.
Copyright 2020 Anne Marie Segal. All rights reserved.
For additional articles in the Corporate Board Series, click here.
For links to corporate board resources, click here.
Anne Marie Segal is an executive coach, resume writer and author of two well-received books on interviewing and career development. She served as a corporate attorney for 15 years, including roles at White & Case LLP and a prominent hedge and private equity fund manager, before launching her coaching practice.
Based in Connecticut not far from New York City, Anne Marie partners with clients internationally on executive presence, impactful communications, graceful transitions and other aspects of professional and personal development.
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