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How to find non-executive director roles

by Stephen Conmy

how to find non-executive roles

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Once you’ve become a certified director and crafted a great CV, your next step is to put yourself out there and look for non-executive director roles.

There are certain places to start, and in this guide, we will give you the practical tips to succeed.
As with any other job search, your first task is to take stock of your career to date and ensure that your experience and skills are clearly described on your CV and LinkedIn profile.
The role of the non-executive director (NED) places great emphasis on personality and ability, not just your professional achievements. Think of it this way; the NED must be a strong, independent, but instrumental voice in the boardroom. Do you feel comfortable challenging bad decisions? Do you have good diplomatic skills? Are your persuasion abilities strong?

Throughout your CV and on your LinkedIn profile, you should demonstrate your independent thinking, ability to get things done, and willingness to make decisions.

NEDs must still have a breadth and depth of executive experience:

  • For the benefit of the shareholders, they must remain highly independent and ask provocative, often difficult questions. 
  • They must have excellent interpersonal and communication skills. 
  • As well as being prepared to listen, they should also be prepared to speak up.

How to search for non-executive director roles

An online search can help you locate executive search firms that specialise in NED recruitment. Most of the better-known firms offer NED recruitment services. Below are some options for you to explore. It is important to note that the Corporate Governance Institute does not currently endorse any NED recruitment agency.

Board Excellence provides a specialist non-executive director and board chair search service. Whether you’re an experienced non-executive director or you’re looking for your first non-executive director role, Board Excellence offers guidance and support at every stage of the search process. Board Excellence recruits across multiple sectors and types of organisations, from small family businesses to large private entities. If you’re interested in being considered for board roles, or if your organisation is seeking a non-executive director, please contact Anne-Marie Taylor at annemarie@boardexcellence.ie. 

Other executive search firms include:

Spencer Stuart

UK public appointments

State Boards Ireland

Board Match

Principal Connections

The Guardian

Board Appointments UK

Dynamic Boards UK

Odgers and Berndtson

As you can see from above, many executive search firms specialise in NED recruitment. The essential advantage of hiring a headhunter is that you are asked to join the business rather than applying for it. This may positively impact the relationship between you and the CEO and help land the NED role that you want.

NED roles also regularly appear in the press, where the recruitment sections of The Financial TimesThe Times, The Irish Times and The Guardian are the ones to watch.

Boards now want NEDs from less ‘traditional’ backgrounds

With scrutiny of public company leadership increasing, corporations are feeling the pressure to get one step ahead of criticism by examining and adjusting the composition of their boards.

Business leaders, especially those from underrepresented groups and nontraditional backgrounds, are now in high demand. 

For decades, boards of directors recruited almost exclusively from the ranks of CEOs, CFOs or existing board members from similar firms.

In the current economy, several trends are converging to make membership on boards more accessible than ever before, increasing opportunities for leaders who haven’t held C-suite posts.

Research has shown that diverse boardrooms result in more robust corporate performance, and diversity isn’t just about gender and ethnicity.

In today’s business environment, diverse board candidates can offer valuable insights and skills that are particularly welcome, if not vital.

Companies must have a variety of perspectives and experiences around the table to better understand opportunities, anticipate challenges, assess risks, and weigh the implications of various decisions. Nontraditional candidates can benefit from this trend.

Companies are also facing increasing external pressures to diversify their boards. For example:

  • Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon announced at Davos in 2020 that the investment firm wouldn’t underwrite IPOs for companies with all-white male boards. 
  • The state of California requires that all publicly traded companies headquartered in the state have at least one female director.
  • The world’s largest money manager, BlackRock, has publicly advocated for at least two women on the boards of companies in which it invests.
  • Glass Lewis, a proxy firm, votes against nominating companies’ chairs without at least one female director.

How to make yourself available for board service

  • Promote yourself. Your resume and skills have probably been honed over a long period. Unfortunately, that’s not enough. Don’t be afraid to let people know what value you have created in prior companies, and broadcast your desire to find non-executive director roles. Speak at conferences and publish articles to boost your visibility. You should build your brand early on and continue to do so throughout your career.
  • Forge new relationships and nurture existing ones. A majority of board members earn their positions through their existing connections in the world of executive leadership. You can reach out to people already on boards, executives, or advisors, such as outside counsel in a company you are interested in serving. Social media sites like LinkedIn can be helpful in this regard. Make sure all your contacts are up-to-date.
  • Identify your speciality. An increasing number of companies are hiring board members with expertise in emerging fields like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and cybersecurity. Additionally, companies are looking for professionals knowledgeable about digital transformation and customer insights. 
  • Join organisations. For example, become a member of the Corporate Governance Institute. You will receive leadership insights, board opportunities, exclusive events and CPD mentorship, as well as networking with active board members who can share practical advice about real-world situations.
  • Look for the right opportunity. Board service requires a significant time commitment. Do not jump at the first opportunity you see. Take the time to consider whether this is a position in which you will be able to grow and make a significant contribution based on your strengths.
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Non-Executive Director

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