Dr. April Willis, Principal Business Consultant & Coach at April Willis Consulting, LLC.
How familiar are you with the idea of paid corporate roles? Corporate board positions can be incredibly lucrative endeavors that require minimal effort and offer premium payouts. From equity in the company to six-digit stipends, most corporate boards simply require active participation at a few meetings per year, allowing you to supplement your full-time job with this additional stream of revenue.
While there is a certain level of responsibility associated with sitting on a board, the experience can elevate your skill set as a leader and increase your exposure in the business world. Before we jump into how to land these unicorn board seats, let’s review the purpose of corporate boards.
The Roles Of A Corporate Board
Corporate boards exist to provide governance oversight regarding how an organization operates. They do not manage the day-to-day functions, rather they prioritize stakeholders’ interests by ensuring the organizational integrity, fiscal responsibility and due diligence in all matters of policy.
Board members may also serve on committees aligned with their interests and expertise. Committees may meet outside of board meetings to research, brainstorm and offer potential solutions for the larger board to consider regarding specific board matters.
One of the greatest responsibilities of a board is to lead the search for the company’s president, CEO or executive director equivalent. The board will also evaluate the company’s leader during annual performance reviews.
If you’re on board with these responsibilities so far, then let’s discuss how you can better position yourself for a corporate board seat.
Preparing For A Corporate Board Position
There is no one surefire way to earn a corporate board role, however, taking certain steps can better position you for a board offer. Incorporating the following strategies in your professional portfolio will support your efforts in landing a corporate board role.
1. Build your reputation by serving on a nonprofit board.
These are unpaid roles, but board service of any kind demonstrates a familiarity with board processes and objectives. Seek the ones that you are passionate about and try to give them as much of your insights and expertise as possible. While this is supporting your ultimate goal of securing a paid corporate board role, remember that you should be providing your very best service as a board member. Give the nonprofit organization the time, care and attention it deserves so you build your reputation as an invaluable board member.
2. Establish your subject matter expertise.
Most corporate boards try to build a slate of members with a variety of skill sets to offer advice in different situations. For example, they may seek a realtor to support a new commercial real estate transaction, a banker to ensure fair loan rates and an attorney to offer guidance on clauses they should keep an eye out for.
When you’re ready to seek a corporate board role, be sure you have established yourself as a credible expert in a particular area. You will not be expected to work a full-time schedule for free, but during meetings, they may ask your advice. They will likely also appreciate your established connections with other experts in your field. Knowing that you bring particular expertise to the board will help you clinch that spot even quicker.
3. Document your experiences.
From your nonprofit board leadership experiences to your business world accomplishments, document everything in a board-specific resume. Just as you would cater your resume for a job application, consider creating a resume just for board applications. Do not list every job you’ve ever held, just the most recent and relevant to the board role.
4. Leverage your network.
Who do you know that works at a company with a corporate board? Have you researched the corporate boards you’re most interested in and looked for common connections? Consider conducting some investigative work on LinkedIn to find common connections, schools or previous employers between you and other board members. Start to make it known that you’re interested in corporate board roles among your friends and colleagues so they can facilitate introductions as appropriate.
Assessing A Board
Before you officially commit to serving on a corporate board, usually by board appointment, protect yourself by asking the following questions:
1. Is your board covered with director and officer insurance?
D&O insurance protects you in the case of a liability suit. Remember, serving on most boards is a privilege, but there are still risks to be aware of and it is critical that you protect yourself legally and financially.
2. What is your company’s financial standing?
If there is a board opening on a sinking ship, don’t take it. Protect yourself from future financial liability by avoiding corporations with a downward trajectory or budgets in the red.
3. May I see your bylaws, articles of incorporation and standing rules?
An informed leader with board experience is expected to ask for these documents. Don’t feel like a nuisance. They will recognize that you know what you’re doing and you’re cautiously exploring the boundaries that you may potentially agree to operate within. Specifically, note term limits, compensation, the mission statement and attendance policies.
4. Can you please explain the relationships between board members and the CEO?
If there is tremendous tension or discontent among subgroups of the board in relation to each other or the CEO, then this board may require more of your time, effort and patience than it might be worth. A unified board will be a significantly more pleasant experience.
Sharing Your Talents
With these strategies for positioning yourself for a successful board term, you are equipped to make a splash in the corporate world. Sitting on the other side of the table can increase your perspective and help you continue to develop as a professional while also getting paid.