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May 5, 2014How do I get on a corporate board?

Just the other night, a senior executive woman asked me, “What’s the deal with corporate boards? Every women’s conference I’ve been to lately seems to have a session on corporate board service. Does everyone really want to be on a board?” Interest in corporate board service seems to be accelerating; you know something’s having a moment when it appears on Gawker.

Before getting into the practical steps you can take to join a board, it’s important to perform what one company calls a “Reality Check.” Make sure you understand the expectations and responsibilities board service entails, including the frequency of board and committee meetings. Know why you want to serve and what you personally can bring to the conference table. Interest in board service is high, but seats remain few. And unlike in a standard job application process, open board seats are not listed and applications are not solicited. Competition for these coveted positions is not only fierce—it’s largely invisible. Here’s how to become eligible:

  • Get operational experience; manage a P&L or cultivate a niche, in-demand area of expertise.

  • Tell your company’s CEO, and everyone else you know, that you’re interested in joining a board—and explain the value you can bring. Investigate whether your company has subsidiary or joint venture boards. Make the case for board service as executive leadership development so that your company is invested in having you serve as a director.

  • Make like a cable modem and network! Most importantly, network where the directors are.  Attend events where you will meet sitting directors and ask colleagues and professional acquaintances to introduce you to other directors. Cultivate directors as mentors and sponsors. Get to know the search firm consultants who specialize in board placement.

  • Become known. Raise your visibility through speaking, writing, and strategic networking—in addition to developing a strong track record as a proven performer.

  • Are you prepared to deliver an elevator speech? If not, practice succinctly stating the experience you seek and the value you bring. Be prepared to quantify your track record in terms of business managed, revenue generated, etc.

And finally: listen to Catalyst’s recent webinars, Getting on Board and Board Service as Executive Leadership Development, to learn more!