How to find a non-executive role

Unless you have Penn and Teller levels of magical prowess, you’re probably finding it a tough ride to locate and win a non-executive director role in the 2020s.  Gone are the days when you could simply hit “apply” and a week or so later the phone rang with an interview request.  The good old days, aye?  Well, don’t be too dismayed because you’re not alone and there is help out there!
The task for many executive directors or professional advisors is making the transition to non-executive director roles. It is worth taking a moment to reflect on what a Chair will look for when appointing a non-executive director.
There are some common traits that Chairs look for.  Here are a small number:
  • Your network and connections
  • Demonstrable passion for the business/sector
  • Cultural and personality fit with the management team
  • Governance experience
  • A skill or understanding that the Board simply does not have, currently.
If the SME market is your target market, then the likelihood being hired you for your extensive governance experience is rather slim.  These businesses (at least in the SME market) will largely look to fill a gap on the board that they do not have representation for, or they will likely want to hire you for your ability to utilise your connections and network for a commercial gain.  And don’t think that you will see this in the job specification, you should be commercial enough to “read between the lines”.
A Boardroom can be a rather fragile environment and closely following the value of your connections will be cultural fit.  It is important that you fit in well.  Getting across to the CEO that you are an arbiter of the reputation of the business, the Chair and the CEO goes without saying.
But being too laid back in approach or even being seen as a “Yes Man” will be seen as a major negative.  Chairs look for those who can and will challenge strategy and decisions.  For many, this kind of constructive confrontation on matters to do with strategy and long-held accepted norms can be the differentiator between the successful applicant and the runner up.
Only by understanding the role of the non-executive director may one finely tune their approach, CV and rhetoric.  See each meeting and interview as a way in which you can challenge the Board to take the risk –not in the appointment but rather, by not appointing you.
So here’s the thing, how are non-executive directors actually hired?
Most notable routes are:
  • Doing your own due diligence and making approaches to companies directly.
  • Personal connections.
  • For PLC and charity vacancies, by advertisements.
  • Recruiters and head-hunters.
One recent statistic quoted “personal connection” as being the leading contributor to making non-executive hires within privately owned companies.  But don’t be dis-heartened by that number, because many “personal connections” are “arms-length” or “weak” connections.
Why is this good news?  It means skilled and avid networkers are more likely than others to find non-executive director roles.  Being part of social groups and networks like Linkedin and can lead the way to non-executive director portfolio success.
There is no defined way of winning non-executive roles but it has become obvious that a clever mixture of networking and being able to clearly articulate why you should be hired as a Board Advisor or non-executive is key.
Ian Wright is the Founder and CEO of, the UK’s leading community of non-executive directors with 11,000+ members.

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