Market Intelligence for Appoint Professionals

We recently interviewed five board recruiters: Jackson Stone, The Treasury, Board Dynamics, Hobson Leavy and the Institute of Directors.  They search (ie headhunt) or advertise for board members across public companies, crown entities, CCOs, NGOs and private companies. Together they make over 200 board appointments each year.

Here are some of the key insights we gained (with Simon's comments in italics):


GENERAL OBSERVATIONS
 

1. What do aspiring directors under estimate most when embarking on their governance career?

  • How competitive it is
  • How hard it is to differentiate themselves
  • The time commitment, responsibility and accountability
  • How their current experience matches their aspiration
  • The (relatively) low level of remuneration

 

2. The most sought after board skills are currently:

  • Financial - able to serve on an audit subcommittee
  • Technology and digital - especially experience of industry disruption

Other skills in demand include:
  • Commercialisation of IP
  • International growth & marketing
  • Prior governance experience
  • Commercial skills (especially for NGO roles)
  • Specific industry experience and networks
  • Health & safety
 
ST:  Create your board persona around two or three deeply held functional skills and two or three industries/sectors you know intimately.

3. Less than a third of board roles are advertised or use an independent recruiter.
 
ST: Networking, raising your profile and introducing yourself directly to organisations remains paramount if you want to be proactive in building your board career.

 

4. Your personal network and connections have become increasingly important. 
 
ST: Work hard at keeping your network current, maintaining industry insights and up to date competitor intelligence. Be in a position to provide introductions to organisations you are on the board of.

 

5. The focus of board diversity is moving from gender to ‘diversity of thought’.
 
ST: Interviewees noted that:

  • diversity was only a relevant factor after skills had been proven
  • ethnicity/background/geography shaped diverse thinking
  • public sector appointments were far ahead of the private sector in regard to bringing diversity to boards

 

6. There was unanimous support for the value of Not for Profit board experience, especially at the early stages of your governance career.

ST: But be careful that you don’t get pigeon holed as ‘only’ a NFP director (this can happen if you have more than 2 NFP roles without any commercial roles).  

 

APPLYING FOR ROLES

 

7. Candidates are not always encouraged to introduce themselves to recruiters prior to applying for roles.
 
ST: Some recruiters were open to it, some were not! I suggest your first connection is via email, that you ask specific questions about the company or the role (and not “Can you tell me about the role?”) and then enquire if the recruiter is open to a call.

 

8. Strong CVs are succinct, outline governance and sector experience and have the priority information on the first page. The document should clearly articulate the value you add to a board and paint a picture of you as a whole person.
 
ST: Be sure your CV is written through a board and not an executive lens, using board language even when describing your executive experience. 

 

9. The optimal CV is 3 pages long (or between 2 and 4).
 

10. On balance you shouldn’t include a photo on your CV.
 
ST: But, if you do, make sure it is small, recent and realistic otherwise it will count against you.

 

11. All recruiters will check you out on Linked In and many will also reference Facebook and Google.
 

12. Hard skills are far more important than soft skills on your CV - maybe a 2/3 to 1/3 split.   
 
ST: Ensure your CV focuses on hard, quantifiable, tangible skills and experience (industry & sector experience, functional skills, key achievements) over softer, intangible skills (characteristics, traits, how you think and communicate). When it comes to an interview the inverse applies and it is much more about your approach, communication, the way you think etc.

 

13. A governance statement/personal profile can be helpful on a board CV as long as it is pithy and not full of buzzwords.
 
ST: The common consensus is that recruiters will read a governance statement only after they have read the rest of the CV and seen substance.

 

14. Listing names of referees on a CV does not, on balance, help you.
 
ST: I suggest only alerting your referees when you are close to being offered, not when you are merely applying for a role.


15.
The five most common mistakes on board CVs:

  • Typos
  • Content not targeted; too verbose or waffle
  • No clear Unique Selling Point; doesn’t draw out the skills that you would bring to a board
  • Photo includes pets or grandchildren
  • It being simply a rehashed version of your executive CV

16. Exceptional cover letters:
  • Are succinct (one page max)
  • Are targeted to the specific role; not general in nature
  • Clearly outline how your skills and attributes match those on the position brief
  • Use evidence and concrete achievements
  • Paint a picture/join the dots for the reader


ST:   It’s also an opportunity for your personality to shine through and to show some genuine energy for the role.


FINAL INSIGHTS

17. These included:

  • Be really clear about the value you bring to a board
  • Invest in training to address any gaps in your skillset
  • Choose your boards wisely – where will you learn and build your networks
  • Work hard on your network and connections
  • Take ‘unfortunately you were not selected’ feedback with grace


If you are looking for personalised advice around your board career or governance CV, please see our other professional services.

You may also be interested in previous market intelligence we garnered in February 2015.

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