Market Intelligence for Appoint Professionals - Feb 2015

We recently interviewed a number of board recruiters including Sequel Partners, The NZ Treasury, Signium, Hobson Leavy and Effective Governance.  Together they make over 120 board placements a year.  While the majority of these recruiters undertake search (ie they headhunt) and do so for public companies, crown entities and large private companies, their observations are applicable across the whole of the governance spectrum.

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


1. A minority of board roles are advertised or use an independent recruiter (circa 30%) versus being found through networks with board members.

ST: Networking, building your profile and introducing yourself to chairs remains paramount if you want to be proactive in building your board career.


2. The most sought after skills currently are:

  • Executive management and leadership
  • Finance, audit & risk
  • Technology and digital

Other skills included sales and marketing (international), commercial experience and functional strengths like supply chain and manufacturing.

ST: A purely professional services background was not highly valued.


3. Specific advice for aspiring board members included:

  • Be seen thinking and looking like a director
  • Be clear about how you can add value to a board
  • Be conscious of the balance between networking and irritating
  • Be genuine
ST: I would add: be sure your governance CV is written through a board and not an executive lens.


4. Your personal network and connections are not overly important.  The exception to this was crown appointments (Who will vouch for you?) and start ups (Who can you connect us to?).

ST: Resist listing a plethora of referees on your CV.  However, my experience in making appointments in to privately owned businesses is that potential customer, supplier or service provider contacts are often welcomed. These should be shared at interview stage, if appropriate.


5. The desire for board diversity is real and important. While gender remains the predominant focus, boards are prepared to take a punt on younger candidates: “Who are we selling to and does our board reflect this?”

ST: Only a couple of decades late!


6. There was unanimous support for the value of Not for Profit board experience.

ST: Always detail the NFP’s revenue, headcount, size of board and key contributions on your CV.




7. Candidates are encouraged to introduce themselves prior to applying as long as:

  • their expectations are real
  • they’ve done their homework
  • it’s by telephone and for about 5 minutes (for aspirational directors)!


ST: I’m open to calls for specific questions about the company and the role when recruiting but not to reiterate what is already in the role description.

8. Being succinct and clear makes a CV stand out from the rest:

  • Who are you and what did you actually do & achieve?
  • Outline scale and nature of roles
  • Demonstrate ‘been there, done that’. Aim with a rifle.
ST: The CV should focus on hard skills and facts – the interview is the time for soft skills and subjectivity.


9. The five most common mistakes on board CVs:

  • Too long winded
  • A focus on form and not substance
  • Not differentiating director and executive experience
  • Not hi-lighting actual governance capability
  • Typos

ST: Try to use board language even when describing your executive experience.  


10. There was an even split on the value of governance statement/personal profile on a board CV.

  • ‘Yes, how they think is how they behave (as long as the statement is brief)’ versus
  • ‘No, we focus on fact over opinion’.


ST: I personally screen a CV in the following order: governance experience, governance strengths, executive experience and then the governance statement (if the first three pique my interest).


11. The optimal CV should be 2-3 pages long.


12. It’s a 50/50 call on whether a photo should be on the CV.

ST: But if you do make sure it is recent and realistic otherwise it will count against you in a major way.


13. Listing names of referees on a CV is ineffective.

ST: With the exception being crown entities where “Who you know” is valued highly.


14. Two thirds of the recruiters will check you out on Linked In, Facebook or Google.


15. Exceptional cover letters outline:

  • Why you are applying and
  • What you bring (specifically entity & sector experience and always referencing the role description)


ST: Cover letters should be one page, demonstrate how you think and not simply restate your CV.

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

Simon Telfer
February 2015

(c) Appoint Better Boards. Please do not distribute the link or contents without running it past us first. Thank you.