Six tips for finding your first NED role

20 August 2019

Finding your first non-exec position can be a tricky proposition, especially in the financial services world. In the first of a four-part series, we’d like to share the insight of industry-experienced NEDs with you.

1. Make sure your reasons are right
The transition from executive to NED is not necessarily a natural one. If your motivations, and your goals, are unclear, you’re setting yourself up for a frustrating experience. First, be honest with yourself about why you want a NED role. Is this the right time in your life and your career? Is finding a directorship about your ego and industry standing, or are you genuinely interested in sharing your experience with others? And, are you ready for the time commitment, and comfortable with the SM&CR accountability (if in a regulated sector)? A board is not a private dining club. A directorship comes with serious responsibility.

2. Be patient. Very patient
Don’t expect your first role to come fast. The NED and executive worlds move at a very different pace. When looking for executives, firms have a clear idea of who they need, then they go out and get them. With NEDs, the requirements tend to be vaguer, and timelines are more drawn out, especially if a board is not looking for a like-for-like replacement. Boards like to explore different possibilities – you must do the same. Don’t stop networking and researching even if you think you have found the perfect role. You may have lots of interesting initial conversations, which never lead much further. Keep going, even if you feel like you’re going nowhere.

3. Network, network, network
Many successful NEDs have never gained a role through a formal process. Positions that you see advertised will often attract many hundreds of applications – the odds won’t be on your side. The key is to put yourself out there, attend events, meet more industry people. The wider your network, the more chance of hearing about an opportunity or being referred. If your other commitments make personal networking a challenge, then the web and social media provide plenty of research and networking opportunities.

4. Boost your visibility on LinkedIn
Love it or hate it, LinkedIn is a valuable tool in networking and gaining NED opportunities. Directly finding a role via LinkedIn is a difficult, time-consuming process. But if your profile stands out, opportunities may well come to you. Review and update your profile. Highlight what you can offer as a NED. Make sure your skills and experience feature relevant buzzwords that will turn up in search results. There are now lots of ways to enhance your profile and attract more views – search for internet tutorials on how best to present yourself for both algorithms and human beings.

5. Practise first; prove you can do it
There are stepping stones to a directorship, like becoming a school governor or volunteering as a charity trustee. Many of the duties and responsibilities are similar or the same. You get to learn and practise the NED role, in a less pressured setting (it helps when you’re not taking a fee). At the same time, you get to use your experience to have a positive impact. It’s a win-win.

6. Look before you leap
Once you think you’ve found a potential opportunity, you must do your due diligence. You need to treat joining a board the same as you would joining as an executive. Things can get messy if you commit to a firm with legacy issues or problems in the pipeline – especially if you are taking on regulatory accountability. You need to be in tune with the culture too – and clear on exactly what you are there to do. Check out our next blog for more detailed guidance on due diligence.

If you’re an executive looking for a NED opportunity or you’re looking to hire a NED for your business, please get in touch.

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