Your Complete Guide to Serving on a Board of Directors
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:
- Who are you going to work with on the board?
- What’s the scope of the projects you will be handling?
- 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.
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