5 Strategies for Gaining a Board Seat

With boards seeking more diversity and imposing more term and age limits, opportunities are growing for newcomers. But it’s not easy to land these slots.

For some, it is the pinnacle of a long career. For others, it’s a part-time role that helps build that career. Whatever its significance, getting tapped for a board seat at a large or small firm is a unique accomplishment.

Lately, those opportunities appear to be growing. More and more boards, seeking both to increase the diversity of directors and to lower their average age, are imposing mandatory retirement ages or term limits.

But how does one manage to get noticed and picked for one of these prized spots? Many names get passed over, experts say. “What often separates those who gain a board seat from those who do not is being proactive in your approach and not simply waiting for an opportunity to come along,” says Joe Griesedieck, Korn Ferry’s vice chairman of board and CEO services.

Here are five strategies for positioning yourself for a board seat.

Establish a successful track record.

Most people who are sought out for board roles have a track record of success in an executive capacity at their own company, says Julie C. Norris, a senior client partner in Korn Ferry’s Board and CEO Services practice. Most have experience in areas such as managing a P&L, leading transformational growth through M&A and organic efforts, providing financial acumen, driving innovation, or navigating new technologies.

Gain a reputation outside your organization.

Find ways to demonstrate your expertise beyond your own organization by speaking at conferences and writing thought-leadership pieces. “Speak at executive-level events hosted by the industry you have targeted in your board strategy,” Griesedieck says.

Develop your board proposition.

Assess your skills and experience to determine which industries or types of companies you would add value to, Griesedieck says. Write a one-page bio that summarizes your value proposition. “Create a synopsis of what you’ve done rather than a list of dates and titles,” Norris says. Think of it as headlines about your career. For example, you might indicate that you have led transformative growth for a consumer-facing business. “Your value proposition helps a board to connect the dots between what they’re looking for in a director and what you’ve accomplished in your career,” she says.

Identify companies that need your skills.

Target companies at which your experience and skills would be most relevant. Talk with industry experts and competitors about these companies’ strategic opportunities and challenges, Griesedieck says, and read analyst reports. Find out who is already serving on those companies’ boards and what their qualifications are, he adds.

Network with other board members.

“Seventy percent of all board appointments made every year are done through networking, not through executive search firms,” Griesedieck says. Make a list of everyone you know who is in or around boardrooms and let them know you’re interested in serving on a board, Norris says. That includes people you’ve worked with during your career who are now CEOs, board directors, or connectors (e.g., investment bankers, management consultants, and accountants). Reach out to anyone you know who provides services to the people in and around boardrooms and who’s in a position to recommend qualified board candidates, Norris says.