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Your Complete Guide to Serving on a Board of Directors

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Do you ever have the feeling you deserve to be much further ahead in your career than you are? Ever wonder why some people attract high-profile jobs? Ever ask yourself: Why not me?

We all have secret desires to succeed and be recognized—hey, even envied a little.

So here’s a question for you: Do you have a line in your resume stating you’re on a board of directors?

Wait, you say. I have no experience, no connections, no way I could possibly do that! The truth is, many professionals don’t think of offering their services to a board until late into their career. But they could’ve reaped the career benefits of being on a board long before that.

Why sit on a board?

Here are seven reasons to consider it:

1. You’ll rub shoulders with leaders and influencers in your industry or community. You know what that means: new work opportunities follow.

2. When you’re engaged in something other than your work, people have a different perception of you. There’s a positive shift in your reputation and credibility.

3. Boards are like mini-organizations. It’s a place where you can shine and expand your leadership skills.

4. Your communication skills will dramatically improve.

5. You’ll get ideas for your own business and career.

6. You’ll find mentors and build political capital.

7. You’ll enjoy the fulfillment that comes from giving back to the community.

Now, how to land a seat?

A few smart moves:

You’ll be surprised at how far you can go by following a few easy steps. (But don’t kid yourself; I didn’t say quick steps.)

First, reflect on what causes you believe in. Sometimes the best opportunities are the ones that line up with your passions. Next, list the special skills you can bring to the board, like marketing, finance, coaching or IT.

Now it’s time to target companies. Who do you know in your network? Don’t be shy to ask for a referral.

Don’t know anybody? Develop a list of target companies by tapping into director registries available on the Web. Good places to start include The National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) or Board Connections (for Canadians). Catalyst serves as a resource for women executives, but this page offers a comprehensive list of organizations that can be helpful in the pursuit of a directorship for both men and women.

Once you’ve selected a few companies, look at the bios of the current board members. Do they have directors who already bring the skills you offer? When is the year-end, and when does the board come up for election? Timing your application is part of a savvy strategy, so aim at gathering as much information as possible about the boards you’re interested in.

Paid or unpaid director?

Don’t expect to be appointed to a public company board seat and receive $200,000 in annual compensation and stock options.

When you start your search, you will find many more available positions if you’re willing to work for free. Penelope Trunk offers a series of questions to help you decide if working for free is a good option for you, including:

  1. Who are you going to work with on the board?
  2. What’s the scope of the projects you will be handling?
  3. How will you be able to leverage your experience on the board?

Bottom line: serving on a not-for-profit board can give you a taste of whether you enjoy being a board member.

Are you ready to raise your game? Sitting on a board isn’t out of reach for you. You can do this!

Laure Cohen’s blog is http://www.SheMeansSuccess.com about true and tried advice to help women achieve success. You can tweet her at @laurecoh.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=718381983 Sophie Lizard

    This. Is. Awesome. Thank you, Laure, you’ve given me a whole new idea to think about!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=552148080 Laure Cohen van Delft

      That’s what blogs are for! Thanks for stopping by.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001835807537 Kathy Ver Eecke

    Laure -
    I’ve gone back and forth on this for a while, wondering if the time commitment was worth the return. I think you raise really good points. thanks for the post.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=552148080 Laure Cohen van Delft

      Kathy:I love your question. My take on it is that you have to do your research well. Then, when you find the right fit for your set of skills, don’t be shy to ask people already on the board about the expectations in terms of time and even a time schedule. There is a risk of getting sucked into doing a lot of work especially in a non-profit organization with not much money. In any case, I would advise to start as a regular member of a board and slowly move into the more demanding positions such as VP, Treasurer, and President. Under those conditions, you’ll find there is a great return both on a professional and human level.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1300412107 Debbie Bills

    Laure you do have some great points here. if nothing else it is good for the self esteem. One place that can be good to start I found is the HOA in your housing development. Ours has a board of director, it is small but you sure can learn a lot. Thanks again for some good info, Laure.
    Debbie

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=552148080 Laure Cohen van Delft

      Debbie: You are right on with your suggestion. Serving on a Board is also a way to give back, to get involved in a community, and in the end give more meaning to your life. It is good for self esteem in particular if you prepare well enough to project self confidence.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=815182369 Yves Robidoux

    Tu me donnes le goût de retourner sur le marché du travail! Bravo

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=552148080 Laure Cohen van Delft

    If you wish to continue researching on this topic, I suggest this excellent e-book: Becoming a Public Company Director by Tracy E. Houston http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0081KAIFS. You can also join Tracy’s LinkeIn Group called Board Guru.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=510969931 Joanna Warwick

    Thanks Laure, this has given me some ideas and sometimes it can be just about the experience and challenge too..

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=344723638937780 She Means Success

      That was exactly the intent. Once you get the ball rolling, you wonder why you didn’t do it earlier. It’s one of those life experiences. Thanks Joanna.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=374518769280876 Leanne Regalla | Make Creativity Pay

    Great points, Laure. I think many people fear taking this step, or mistakenly think it’s out of their league, but you definitely make it less scary and a lot more attractive!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=552148080 Laure Cohen van Delft

      You make a good point. There’s the fear factor always creeping in too. Hope that by giving some more information about Boards, the fear will dissipate. Then, as always, it’s about making it happen.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=551574003 Claude Djian

    What? Moi, je pourrais envisager de siéger dans un Conseil d’Administration! Thank you for this piece of advice technically, professionally and psychologically fruitful!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=552148080 Laure Cohen van Delft

      So welcome!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=714557238 Jamie White Wyatt

    Laure Cohen van Delft: Great article to get people thinking about board service. You are right about the fulfillment that comes from “giving back.” All other things being equal, who you know, and where you serve can tip the scales in your favor, when you are competing for a job or appointment.

    If you update this information, I’d also add, (8) You can become a more effective “connector.” Relationships and contacts made through Board service will help you, and friends/colleagues better connect for business opportunities, jobs, volunteer positions, etc. (9) You can be a part of changing things for the better, whether it is making your community a better place to live and work, or helping the less fortunate.

    I was just reappointed for a new four year (unpaid) term on my town’s Development Authority. During my 16 year tenure we have saved historic buildings, founded a museum, built a community amphitheater, attracted new businesses, and otherwise enhanced our community. I also recently resigned from serving 11 years on a non-profit board that helps child and adult victims of sexual trauma and sex-trafficking. I have previously served as an unpaid board member on other school, church, and civic boards. These experiences are priceless!

    My husband has served for many years on a bank board, which is a paid position. With paid service comes some increased liability, for which there is insurance. He has also served on a number of uncompensated school, church, and civic boards. Through our service, we have met people and had experiences which would have otherwise been impossible.

    Most non-profits are always looking for volunteers. Those opportunities may lead to paid boards. Good luck everyone!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=552148080 Laure Cohen van Delft

      Great comments Jamie. Truly an eye-opener to realize how sitting on a board will bring up opportunities that would never have come up otherwise. As you point out, opportunities to make friends, contacts and above all, make our world a better place to live and work. Thanks for your suggestions!

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1344885713 Rene Lynch

    These are great suggestions, Laure! I especially like the point about choosing something that lines up with one’s passions. Even if it doesn’t help you out career wise, it’s a great way to contribute to something meaningful. Thanks for the tips.