Are You Board Material? 8 Steps to Take

By Andrew Chastain

Many leaders round out their career experiences by serving on boards of directors—first on a small, nonprofit board and then perhaps later a paid, corporate position. Board opportunities rarely just happen, however. They come as the result of thoughtful, deliberate planning on the individual’s part.

What follows are essential must-do’s for preparing yourself. These are steps to take over a matter of years in order to position yourself for a board seat.

1. Build your brand.

Do what it takes to be visible and respected in your field. This includes the big things (eg, publishing articles, attending conferences) but also little things like being professional and contributing positively to conversations on social media. Boards want to hire directors who are known and respected in their fields.

2. Prepare a board bio.

Rather than a resume, type up a one-page document that outlines why you want to serve on a board: What are your areas of expertise? What are your strengths? What have you done in your personal life that would add to your board service? It’s important to have this document as the basis for your candidacy and your elevator pitch. Know what you bring to the (boardroom) table.

3. Gauge your time commitment!

Is your life already stressful and hectic? It will get more so when serving on a board. Estimate three hours of commitment for every hour you actually spend in the board room. Make sure you (and your family) can accommodate this extra obligation.

4. Start small and simple.

A good place to start looking is for a nonprofit board seat at an organization you’re passionate about. You won’t get paid, but you’ll gain great governance experience and understand how it differs from management. In addition, some companies have junior boards that serve the purpose of grooming members for greater roles in the future.

5. Clear it with your employer.

Some companies strongly encourage their leaders to serve on community or other boards, while others are lukewarm about it, thinking it might detract from an employee’s time commitment. Before you make a major commitment, check to see if your employer has policies or preferences. And make sure there are no conflicts of interest between the two organizations.

6. Put the word out.

If you have contacts in nonprofit organizations or small or large companies, let them know you have interest in a board position. Also, look for executive search firms with board recruitment practices, and send them your bio and set up time to talk with one of their consultants.

7. Know why you’re wanted.

If you become a board candidate, are you wanted for your specific skills? Your general wisdom? For your industry connections? Each board should be able to articulate what it is that attracts them to you. Knowing why will help you to make your decision. This is especially important for diversity candidates, who won’t want to be considered simply because they “check a box”.

8. Don’t be afraid to say no.

Not every board role is right for you. As difficult as it might be, wait for a role that stirs your passion and aligns with your personal mission and brand. In addition, look for red flags. Is the organization unstable? Does it have outstanding litigation that might make a board role challenging and even put you at risk as a fiduciary? Be ready to walk away if an opportunity doesn’t feel right to you.