Corporate directorships can be incredibly rewarding, allowing you to exercise your accumulated expertise in a part-time context.

But getting on your first public board is no easy task; there is intense competition for first-time director positions, and it’s therefore imperative that you are proactive and strategic in putting yourself forward to be considered for a position. Do not be reactive. The vast majority of prospective directors will not, through some lucky break, suddenly find themselves with a public company board seat. To rely on this lucky break is, in all likelihood, to forfeit your chance at a board career. Getting on your first board is largely a matter of getting your qualifications noticed by the people—recruiters, CEOs, sitting boards— tasked with filling open board positions. Your job as a prospective director is to identify, express, and market your qualifications.

What Makes A Successful Director?

Successful directors tend to have a complex mixture of professional competency, work ethic, and collaborative skills. They are confident but not arrogant.

They have both the skillset and the mindset.

Skillset: Skillset, in this context, can be roughly defined as a person’s professional roles and accomplishments: in other words, what you’re good at and what specialty you can bring to the board.

Successful directors now bring a unique, relevant, and (most importantly) current skillset to the boardroom. For this reason, it is imperative that in preparing yourself for a board position, you identify exactly what kind of skillset you can offer.

Mindset:  If your skillset is what gets you noticed for a board position, your mindset is what differentiates you from rivals with similar backgrounds.

But there are a number of behavioral (“mindset”) traits that are shared by most good directors:

1.  Good directors are balanced and persistent judges.
2. Good directors are skeptics.
3. Good directors see the big picture as well.
4. Good directors are collaborators.
5. Good directors are socially savvy.

How to Get on Your First Board, Step By Step

We also outline 9 steps that will help you get on your first board. The guide presents a great deal of information about the process. We also look at how to build a personal brand, how to market yourself, and to whom.

STEP 1. Know your motivations

STEP 2. Identify your proposition

STEP 3. Know where you’re needed

STEP 4. Write your Board CV

STEP 5. Control your image

STEP 6. Publicize

STEP 7. Network

STEP 8. Ace the Interview

STEP 9. Leverage your identity

Often, getting on your first public board takes work. But don’t let the process be overwhelming. Try to chip away at this systematically. Come up with a plan for identifying your proposition and marketing yourself, then set aside a reasonable number of hours each week in which to execute your plan. Directorships are incredibly rewarding positions and can provide a stimulating forum for sitting executives and/or a meaningful post-executive career.

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Steve Potter

Steve Potter is the CEO of Odgers Berndtson US and sits on its Global Board. He has spent over two decades as a founder, CEO and senior executive of several financial services executive search firm...

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