How to get your first board role

How to get your first board role

When should I start thinking about a board career? Which boards are right for me, and how do I go about applying for board roles? These are just some of the many questions we get asked frequently at Women on Boards. In this article we look at why directorship is a viable option, how to get your first board role and how WOB can help on your pathway to the boardroom.

Should you be getting started on your board career? The answer is yes! Here at WOB we often hear the following apprehensions:

  • I don’t have the right experience
  • What do I have to offer a board?
  • Am I too young?
  • What is expected of directors?

As we say at Women on Boards, there is a board out there for everyone. It's important to understand that directorship IS a viable option for you. There are many boards and committees in Australia other than the highly visible listed companies. A glance at the WOB Vacancy Board shows the variety of different board positions available every week - from to ASX boards and sporting organisations to women’s not-for-profits and government bodies. 

Getting your first board role can be a challenging but rewarding process. Board positions are often highly competitive and typically require a combination of experience, skills, and networking. Here are WOB’s steps to help you work towards securing your first board role:

Gather information

Not sure where to start? Our virtual hour-long FREE information sessions are a great place to find out more about WOB’s offerings and to help you decide which programs, workshops or courses are right for you.

Introducing WOB is our complimentary session where WOB Executive Director Claire Braund and WOB Chief Operating Officer Nicole Donegan explain what WOB does and how w e can help you in your career, leadership and board journey.

Member Orientation is a complimentary webinar for Full, Corporate or Premium WOB members who have taken the first step of joining WOB and need orientation around our many services and offering.

Self-Assessment

Determine your commitment level and availability for board duties. Board roles can be time-consuming, so make sure you can commit the necessary time.

To join a board, in particular a NFP board, it is wise to have an affiliation with the sector in which it operates, an interest in its purpose and be able to commit the appropriate time to be a valuable board member.

WOB’s foundational event Board Starter workshop will give you an understanding of directorship and what is involved. This 90-minute virtual workshop is guaranteed to get you moving. This workshop brings real clarity around why adding board work to your portfolio of activities can enrich your employment opportunities and supports you to maximise your skills and experience and realise personal goals.

Evaluate your qualifications and skills

Consider what unique expertise or experience you can bring to a board. Boards often seek individuals with specific skill sets such as finance, legal, marketing, or industry knowledge. Directors govern an organisation on behalf of the owners, shareholders and stakeholders, so you need to be comfortable in your fiduciary role (an individual who acts in the interest of another person or an organisation). 

For an initial board you are best placed if you play to your professional strengths. Professional expertise in demand includes legal, accounting, marketing, HR, digital economy and general business experience.

Understand how the skills you have used in your career can be adapted to board roles – this is commonly called your transferable skill set. It includes the assets you have gained through experience, rather than your purely technical skill set. Once you have a clear understanding of your transferable skills, consider sectors and types of organisations they might suit. Think laterally, you might be surprised how much a hospital is like an airline!

Diversity and Inclusion. Many boards are actively seeking diversity in their members. If you belong to an underrepresented group, consider leveraging this in your board applications.

Write a good Board CV and LinkedIn profile

Your board CV is not your professional career CV. It should be concise (no more than two pages) and contain a summary of your transferable and professional skills (not your role) and what value you bring. Keywords around competence and areas of speciality are important. WOB’s Build Your Board CV workshop is a great way to get started. 

This intensive hands-on workshop focuses on developing a high-quality draft Board CV, an essential item for current or aspiring directors that pitches you where you need to be, not where you think you are.

Once you have a good Board CV, be prepared to talk to it when introducing yourself at networking functions and when you bump into someone who can help you. Part of your pitch is being ready to do ‘the ask’ when you line up coffee meetings with influential people who can help you – they will not expect their time to be wasted with idle chit chat but will expect to assist you in some way. 

It’s also important to ensure that your LinkedIn profile is consistent with your pitch and Board CV. Check out WOB’s LinkedIn workshops, with LinkedIn profile writers.

Education and training

Consider taking courses related to governance, board leadership and financial literacy. Not only does this demonstrate your commitment to board service and your willingness to learn, it will arm you with the necessary knowledge and skills for the boardroom. 

Be aware of the legal and ethical responsibilities of board members. Understand the potential liabilities and obligations that come with board service. WOB’s new Legal Essentials for the Boardroom is a foundational workshop that covers the duties and legal responsibilities of directors. Designed for new, emerging and current directors, this workshop provides a case-based and highly informative introduction to the key obligations of directors and board members of commercial, NFP and incorporated organisations in Australia.

If you want to truly understand the business you oversee, you need to speak the language of financial statements. Finance Essentials for the Boardroom is a two-and-a-half hour workshop + one-hour follow-up webinar.

Women on Boards offers affordable directorship, governance and risk management courses in partnership with the Governance Institute.

WOB Full, Premium and Corporate membership also includes access  to On Demand Learning Resources, including Build Your Board CV online course. For more courses, workshops and training opportunities see our Events Calendar. 

Also do your reading! Check out the many useful articles and resources on the WOB website. Our Members Only area has articles such as on how to write a board-ready CV and how to apply for a role. 

Networking

One of the best pieces of advice we can give to our members is to build your professional networks - this can open doors to board opportunities. WOB is working hard to bring transparency to the board recruitment process, but the fact remains that appointments are still often made on the basis of recommendations, so networks are critical in landing roles. Join industry associations and organisations where board members and potential board contacts may be present.

Also, let others know of your board interests and ambitions. Ask yourself how many people know of your board aspirations? If the number is low or zero, there’s work to be done. In many sectors there are more candidates than roles, so it can be a competitive process. Appointments are still often made on the basis of recommendation. It is human nature to favour ‘people we know’ or ‘people who are recommended by people we know.’ 

WOB’s networking events, lunches, WOBChats and WOBMeets are a great way to meet new people and create connections. Visit WOB’s Events Calendar to find events near you. 

WOB’s Director Lunches - held in conjunction with our corporate partners - are a chance to hear from leading Non-Executive Directors while networking with WOB members.

Look for board vacancies

An easy option is to wait for someone to ask you to join their board. For most of us this could be a long time coming. A better option is to be strategic and active. You do the choosing. Explore the WOB Board Vacancy postings. We have numerous vacancies listed from across Australia, with around 40 new positions added every week. We strongly recommend looking at the weekly vacancies and particularly the selection criteria to get an understanding of what is out there. If something takes your fancy then do your due diligence.

Seek out mentors or advisors

Mentoring is probably the most powerful developmental process people can experience. And when it works, it develops two for the price of one. In mentoring, the relationship between mentor and mentee is all-important. Mentors are a confidential, independent sounding board to provide support and guidance, allowing you to put issues into perspective and consider various possibilities.

WOB’s My Mentor program is available year-round with highly experienced mentors located across Australia. Headed up by Catherine Brown, accomplished Human Resources executive with extensive experience leading global teams in both Australia and the UK, the MyMentor program guides and supports you to develop a thoughtful approach to planning and achieving your career and board goals.

Prepare for interviews

If you're selected for an interview you need to be thoroughly prepared. Research the organisation, its mission, and its challenges. Be ready to discuss how your skills and experience align with their needs. Emphasize your ability to contribute to the board's strategic goals, governance, and oversight. Be prepared to articulate your vision for the organisation's future.

Be persistent

Getting your first board role can take time. Be persistent in your efforts, and don't be discouraged by rejection. Use feedback to improve your application and interview skills. Remember that board positions often require a combination of qualifications, experience, and networking. It may take time and effort, but with persistence and a strategic approach, you can increase your chances of securing your first board role. 

Be inspired by other WOB members in Lessons from the Boardroom - where members share their personal board journey experiences and outline how WOB has helped them on their pathway to the boardroom.