missed out? move on (but keep in touch) 

Rejection is an inevitable part of a board career - here we bring together advice on how to approach it and even benefit from it.

Most of us are not lucky enough to get the first NED role we pursue, and certainly not if we are aiming high.
It is never pleasant being told that you are not wanted, especially if you had been very keen on the role and put in a significant amount of preparation. Yet almost  every successful non-executive has been rejected at some point. Board roles are extremely competitive as the supply of non-execs exceeds demand and boards are often looking for a specific skill set, as well as a more general ‘fit’ in the non-executive group.
Many find their journey to the boardroom is not linear and an initial rejection can lead to unexpected opportunities. 

Here are three pieces of sound advice from highly successful women in our network:

  1. Make the best of feedback
  2. Be Resilient
  3. Target your efforts


Make the best of feedback

Rowena Ironside, Chair of Women on Boards

I know it is always a big disappointment when you get rejected (as I did several times whilst searching for a new role in 2017). If you felt you were a strong match for the role, then ask for feedback - but don’t be discouraged by it. Treat it as useful input to your future success.
Depending on how accurately their comments reflect your abilities, I would recommend the following reactions:

  1. No, I don’t think that comment accurately reflects my experience: I clearly need to do a better job next time of making sure I get across my expertise in that area.
  2. Yes, they are right, those skills/experience aren’t a core area of strength for me: I should avoid spending too much time on roles where I am not a good match for their requirements.

Remember, none of it means you are not a great candidate for the boardroom!  But you will need to develop a ‘library’ of stories that support your sales pitch; and refine your sense for which roles you have a reasonable chance of winning. You should also read our tips on giving yourself the best chance when applying.

Be resilient 

Francesca Ecsery, portfolio NED & Women on Boards subscriber

We will all need to be resilient in our careers, and our lives. I have changed career 5 times and was rejected around 25 times when I first started pursuing my non-executive career. I now have 5 non-executive roles, most recently including Air France (a CAC40 company).

My number 1 tip is in your attitude: Look at yourself as a business in this context, not a person. It removes the emotion from the situation. Think of the interview as a sales pitch, where both sides are buying and selling. If it doesn’t work out, maintain the connections you have made for future.

If you are really stuck, ask for help and consider pivoting your focus – don’t stay where you are not successful!

Target your efforts 

Alison Thorne, portfolio NED and Women on Boards presenter

Rejection is part of a portfolio career. Many experienced portfolio NEDs will apply for roughly 5 positions a year, perhaps be interviewed for 2 of those and, with luck, get one of those roles. Advertised board vacancies are seeking to fill a very specific slot. You simply may not have the precise skill set, experience level and cultural fit they require - it’s not personal at all.

My best advice is not to waste time on roles you are not a good fit for. You don’t need to meet 100% of the requirements but you should be at 80-85%. You should also be clear on the specific areas you can contribute – personally I put myself forward as bringing commercial experience, change and diversity expertise.

I would also urge you to make the call. Speak to the current chair, other board members and/or the executive team, if possible. It’s useful to explore whether this would be the right role for you but even if not it may be a good opportunity to make or strengthen a connection. No conversation is a waste of time!

Take a look on our Vacancy Board to find your ideal non-executive role.