High-performing executives look beyond the C-suite, with their eyes on an even bigger prize: paid board positions. Executive leaders tell me they seek board roles as a way to stretch their skills, take on more responsibility, and discover new challenges. They also see it as a way to learn and expand their horizons in a way that enriches their performance in their current roles.

People who haven’t yet served on a board might think a board director position is a cushy gig with high profile, lucrative payouts and minimal time commitments. But research and recruiting firm Executive Advisory Inc. reports the average director spends 200 hours a year on board work. According to Salary.com, the average paid board position pays about $70,000. Financially, that’s nothing to sneeze at, but wedging in board role(s) around your other commitments is a balancing act.

With great reward comes great responsibility — the buck stops in the boardroom. A board answers to its employees, internal and external stakeholders, and the complex world of corporate laws and governance.

If the opportunity to shape the vision of a successful company is on your professional to-do list, remember this: It takes planning and strategy to win a seat in the boardroom.

What Type of Board?

Much like a career path, there is a typical progression that leads to a board role. The first step is often an unpaid role on the board of directors for a non-profit. These roles build experience operating within the structure of boards, and gives executives the chance to explore new ways to use their expertise. This community service also demonstrates an executive’s personal values and rounds out a board candidate’s personal profile.

Identify causes and organizations that align with your personal priorities, and volunteer your services. Fundraising is a vital service and an effective way to begin a relationship with a non-profit.

Take a more active role in professional and trade organizations in your industry, and offer to serve on committees or moderate professional development events. These activities build your reputation as a thought leader, increase your experience, and expose you to new people.

Some executives enjoy taking on paid or unpaid advisory roles for startups. Some of these positions provide some financial compensation or stock options. For an executive at a mature company, it can be fun to work in a startup environment and see the significant impact their expertise brings to a young company.

Should You Pay to Be in a Directory?

Quite a few organizations have sprung up to help executives gain a board position. For a fee, they promote candidates to companies and search firms. But you don’t need to pay to get onto a board. This type of advocacy can help, but our clients at ProResource have been successful in finding these positions without the engagement of outside services. In fact, and not at all a surprise, our executive clients tell us the most important factor in landing a board role is networking.

Faced with an open board seat, companies usually start their searches the old-fashioned way — by word of mouth. Executives searching for a board role should do the same, and let their network know of their aspirations. Board members and trusted advisors are asked for referrals, and larger businesses generally hire recruiters to vet the personal and professional reputations of candidates.

Finally, ambitious executives continue to develop their expertise and advance their own learning, to apply in their current roles, and with an eye on how those skills can be applied in the boardroom.

Find the Perfect Match

Boards look for executives who have the experience their company needs. A startup eyeing an initial public offering (IPO) will seek board members who have professional experience successfully guiding other companies through IPOs. A proactive board recruits members who have experience one stage beyond where their business is currently, and the ideal candidate is someone who has made the journey multiple times.

A successful board is comprised of members in all areas of expertise related to a company’s operation and growth, such as financial planning, supply chain, human resources and compensation, security, information technology, governance, and increasingly, culture and diversity.

Don’t wait for the perfect board role to find you; make those connections yourself. Pinpoint your unique selling proposition, whether it’s turnaround, cybersecurity, or complex finance expertise. Look for companies you would want to work for, and determine how you can help those businesses.

Then it’s time to put your network to work for you. Look for introductions to executives and current board members at those organizations. When you get your name out there, you build buzz and an identity as a board candidate.

At the same time, board seekers should not limit their search to their industry; related or complementary industries might also be a good fit.

Culture and Diversity Matter More than Ever

Following the seismic social, political, and cultural events of 2020, companies are expanding their searches for new board members beyond their historic pool of quality candidates. Contenders need to consider and showcase their current commitment to reflecting stakeholder values and building a positive and successful company culture. The ability to collaborate and include diverse voices are sought after qualities in board directors.

McKinsey reports companies with a more diverse board deliver better financial returns. In 2018, executive recruiter Mark HuYoung of NorthWind Partners told us, “Organizations are made up of men and women, so creating gender diversity means you get diversity of thought and direct representation of your stakeholders. Both of these things make a company flourish and, ultimately, become more successful.” And in today’s world, diversity includes much more than gender.

Use your thought leadership platforms to highlight your contribution to diversity and inclusion in your current role. LinkedIn articles are a great way to do this.

How Your LinkedIn Profile Can Help

A board recruiter’s preliminary research will most definitely include a stop at a candidate’s LinkedIn profile. Prospects need a profile that talks about their recent experience, accomplishments, values, and interests. A solid profile tells an executive’s personal, professional story. Gatekeepers will also look for social media activity. As a professional, having a positive social presence can no longer be ignored.

Develop a regular rhythm to your posting activities, and engage with influencers and industry thought leaders. It’s important to post on professional platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter. But commenting on and sharing the posts of the people you want to talk to is more likely to create meaningful engagement.

As with a typical job search, executives should also optimize their LinkedIn profile with the keywords most relevant to their own experience, as well as the companies they hope to attract. A complete profile with a professional photo and clear connections between professional accomplishments and the success of your employers is key.

More Questions?

Don’t just take our word for it. We’re talking to someone who’s in the know regarding how to be more visible on LinkedIn so you receive relevant opportunities to join a non-profit or corporate board.

ProResource executive coach Ann Marie Beebout speaks to Cara Turano (she, her) to get the inside scoop on nominating committees and recruiters. Join them on February 24 at 12:00pm ET.

You can also visit ProResource for more information on how to leverage your LinkedIn profile.

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