how to land a board seat

Landing a Board Seat

by Apr 5, 2022Advisory Groups, Business, Leadership

It’s Not What You Know; it’s Who You Know.

As many individuals enter the prime of their careers or even shift into retirement, the idea of landing a board seat can be compelling for multiple reasons. That might include a source of income in retirement, intellectual stimulation, or an opportunity to expand their network.

Any or all of those can be legitimate reasons to join the board of directors. The question then becomes: What can you do to enhance your chances of landing one of those coveted board seats? I’ll share four tips I have personally used to land a board seat. But the real secret is that your next board seat will come from someone you already know.

1. Know Your Role

The first tip about landing a board seat is understanding that every effective and diverse board comprises several complementary roles. One of those roles might be, for example, a financial expert–someone who is comfortable engaging with the CFO or auditors when it comes to the firm’s financials. Another role could be talent management, an expert in hiring, compensation, and succession planning, while another could be a business strategist. Another role, which we’ll return to in a minute, is the industry expert–someone who brings deep industry expertise to the board.

So, when it comes to thinking about making yourself useful to a board, which role might you play?

2. Know Your Industry

While there can be a couple of exceptions, like a business strategist or a professor, most board members will bring some industry knowledge to the board. That means when you think about potential boards that might interest you, consider where your industry expertise lies. After all, when a board seeks to fill an open seat, they’re looking for the absolute best option available to them.

For instance, I recently talked to a friend of mine who is a retired attorney. He spent his career helping power companies through regulation and rate-setting processes. In our discussion, I mentioned to him how he would be an ideal candidate to serve on the board of a power company, where his deep knowledge of the regulatory process would be invaluable.

3. Understand Your Motivation for Landing a Board Seat

If you want to set yourself up well to be considered a serious candidate for a board seat, your motivation–your why–could be a critical favor. If you’re only in it for the money, for instance, a company might not be as interested compared with someone who has a deep interest in the business and a genuine commitment to helping it advance its cause.

4. Rely on Networking, Not Recruiting

Once you have done your homework to understand what role you might play, what industry you bring deep knowledge in, and what your motivation might be in joining the board, it’s time to network. A mistake many people make is hiring a recruitment firm to help them find an open board seat. They don’t realize that 85 percent of board seats are filled by people the board or CEO already knows. In other words, you’re not going to land a board seat relying on outside recruiters. The exception might be if a company is looking to hire a diverse candidate who lies outside the board’s personal network connections.

That means it’s time to tap your network, either through phones calls or using social media like LinkedIn, to see whom you might know–or whom you might know who knows someone else–who’s connected to the kind of board you want to serve on and who has an open position that matches well with the criteria you have established.

In the end, that’s the one true secret to landing a board seat: You or someone you know already know the person who can land you the position.