By Chris Taylor
NEW YORK (Reuters) – When Hayley Woodin was thinking of giving back to the community while taking her career to the next level, one option stood out: serving on a board of directors.
Woodin, the editor-in-chief of Canada’s “Business In Vancouver” newspaper, jumped at the opportunity when one of the region’s largest hospitals wanted to fill a board seat on its foundation with a marketing and communications expert.
“With a seat at the table, you learn how people work through conflicts, how they strategize, how they lead,” said Woodin, who joined the Royal Columbian Hospital Foundation board in February.
Finding your way onto a board can be daunting. After all, directors are the “crème de la crème” of the business world, who have typically arrived after decades of achievements, said Aliza Licht, a branding consultant and author of the new book “On Brand.”
“Getting on boards is about who you know, and about what you know,” Licht said. “This is why it is so important to shape your narrative properly, so that people understand the value you can add – and think of you for opportunities, even when you’re not in the room.”
The Catch-22 is that companies want directors with board experience to fill board seats. For aspiring first-timers, the obvious question is: How do you even get considered?
Here are a few tips.
START WITH NONPROFITS
Serving on the board of a for-profit company can be lucrative. According to job site Indeed, the average annual compensation for a U.S. board director is at least $78,000, although many earn much more.
Before you reach that stage, you will likely start on a volunteer board, as Hayley Woodin did.
Such positions are unpaid and can even require your financial contribution and a fair amount of time. You will learn how boards operate, get experience in different oversight areas and form personal relationships that will open doors down the road.
To find such opportunities, “often local boards of trade will host events designed to pair those looking for board experience, with organizations looking for board members,” Woodin said. “That’s a great way to connect.”
GET YOUR NAME OUT THERE
You may be excellent at what you do, but if nobody knows about it, that limits your board prospects.
“Make sure people understand that you’ve been in the industry for X years, that your area of expertise is Y, and that you’re looking to bring that experience to companies with formal boards,” Licht advised. “When you are putting that out there, then people will keep their ears open for you.”
That will require activities which might be demanding or uncomfortable, particularly for introverts – such as speaking at industry conferences, moderating panel discussions or going on podcasts. Positioning yourself as a thought leader in your area will keep you at the top of the candidate pool.
BRING SOMETHING TO THE TABLE
Boards are a two-way street: They may ultimately help your career, but your purpose there is to help them. Presumably you are bringing a skillset and a viewpoint they need, in such areas such as accounting, law or marketing.
Continually enhancing your specialty – with certificates and degrees, a stellar industry network, and newly acquired skills – will burnish those credentials and keep them fresh.
You also need time to give whatever you have. A serious board commitment might require 250 hours a year, according to executive search firm Spencer Stuart, which compiled helpful tips in its publication “Getting a Seat at the Table.”
You can prepare for such a role with educational courses provided by the National Association of Corporate Directors.
BE MINDFUL OF ONLINE PRESENCE
Social media posts may count in the process.
“If an organization is looking to bring someone onto their board, what is the first thing they are going to do? They are going to go through your timeline,” Licht said.
“So just remember whenever you share something: Someone is always watching.”
(Editing by Lauren Young and Richard Chang; Follow us @ReutersMoney)