Job Doc

I’m a senior executive interested in board opportunities. My questions are: what are boards currently looking for? How can I successfully apply for a board position? And is this a good choice for me as I begin to look at retirement? Elaine Varelas guides

Being board member is an accomplishment and a serious endeavor. Elaine Varelas guides on how to best approach applying for a board position and what to expect as a potential board member.

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Q: After 15 years as a senior executive and working with our Board of Directors, I am interested in learning how to get a role on a paid board that may benefit from my expertise. I know there are search firms who specialize in this. What are they looking for? And are there other tips to make this happen? It looks like a very good post-retirement opportunity.

A: While many executive search firms have practice groups that specialize in board searches, most first-time directors find their first board seat through their networks. So first, you should activate your network and let people know that you are interested in pursuing board work as a next step in your career. Recruiting firms, as directed by the companies who employ them, are looking for a range of skills, experiences, and qualities that fit the needs of the organization at a particular time. These needs could include a particular functional background (e.g., CEO, CFO, or CIO), a critical need (e.g., cybersecurity, international marketing, etc.), or they could be focused on a specific industry sector.


Additionally, company boards are increasingly looking for greater diversity in their composition, especially in terms of gender and racial diversity. While CEO and CFO are traditional profiles, nominating and governance committees are considering additional professional experiences and competencies. Howard Seidel, Senior Partner at Essex Partners who specializes in working with C-suite executives, writes: “Digital transformation, Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG), cybersecurity, and global experience are currently sought after, as well as candidates across the spectrum of diversity.”

However, being a part of a board goes beyond just saying, “I want a board seat.” You need a well-crafted value proposition which positions your career experience to coincide with the values of the board, as well as the competencies the board is looking for. You also need to determine what types of boards would be most appropriate for you. Consider whether you want to be part of a public or private board, which industries you have the experience and qualifications for, and the size of the board you would be interested in joining. Once you have defined your value proposition and your target organizations, it is critical for you to develop your board biography, a board resume, and a LinkedIn profile to support your qualifications. Jennifer Buras, Senior Partner with Essex Partners who leads the board practice, offers: “Stay visible and active. Speak on panels, post on LinkedIn, and network at NACD or other events that attract board directors. Support your board brand.”


Keep in mind is that recruiters are an important channel for board opportunities, but they are not the only one. Again, the fastest way for you to secure a board role is often through your network, specifically those in your network that are already serving on boards or are engaged in some sort of board activity. Not only might these individuals yield potential opportunities, but they may also provide valuable input to you as you navigate a position on a board, such as strategies for landing board roles. Boards typically seek new members who understand the role of a director. These qualifications may include the ability to ask the right questions and when to advise on and not impose operating assumptions on an executive team. There is value in engaging in programs that provide education on the role and requirements of corporate directors. While looking at first-time board positions, stay open to private company boards and informal advisory boards in the beginning. This will give you both the foundational knowledge and a structured path to other board opportunities.

Service on a board (or multiple boards) can be fulfilling for executives who have retired from their roles while providing intellectual engagement and a sense of prestige. It also requires a commitment and a legal responsibility as both a director and as an active serving member on a board.


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