By Randi Morrison & Broc Romanek of TheCorporateCounsel.net
The Holy Grail: Becoming a director. Meeting half a dozen times a year; sometimes in exotic locales. Earning a quarter million at larger companies.
Many seasoned general counsels start thinking about the next stage of their career as they swiftly move through middle age. And becoming a director somewhere is a common idea. But how does one go about doing it?
When seeking a board seat, as opposed to an in-house counsel or other legal position, you must package yourself differently. You want to portray yourself as a strategic business consultant, not a great lawyer, because the board is not looking for a lawyer. The result is a significantly decreased emphasis on your legal skills and background and an emphasis on your tangible business skills and experience. In fact, it is likely that much of the experience set forth on your “standard” resume will not be relevant for purposes of your board search resume.
Maximizing Your Search
Here are four tips to get you started:
1. Tap Your Personal and Professional Network.
Don’t limit yourself to your obvious network (i.e., those individuals within your network who you know have established relationships with recruiters). Be creative.
Unlike new graduates, directorship candidates like you are generally seasoned professionals with many years of experience interfacing with other experienced professionals in the public and private sector. Chances are, many professionals within your existing network have worked with recruiters in some capacity over the course of their careers and can refer you or make a personal introduction.
Assuming you are actively engaged in one or more professional associations, do not underestimate the value of tapping those networks as well for valuable recruiter connections.
There are tens of thousands of public and private companies in the U.S., each with a board composed of an average of nine (depending on company size, industry, complexity, etc.) directors, some of whom were themselves contacted by recruiters in connection with their appointment to that board. Regardless of whether you already have connections with sitting board members, many boards—particularly public company boards—and board committees work with recruiting firms for executive and/or board of director searches at some point, and would be pleased to assist your networking efforts if asked.
Do not discount the networking opportunities afforded by nonprofit boards. Many directors who serve on nonprofit boards also serve on public company boards, so if you limit yourself to networking with only for-profit organization boards, you are missing a potentially great networking opportunity and source of referrals.
2. Tap into Your Existing Recruiter Network.
If you already have a recruiter network established for your current role (e.g., attorney, finance officer, human resources officer), ask your consultant contacts at those firms whether their firms also handle board of director searches. If they do, seek a personal introduction to one of the consultants in that practice area. If they do not, it is perfectly appropriate to ask your consultant contacts for referrals to other recruiting firms that have a board of director practice. Although there are a seemingly limitless number of search firms, it is a close-knit network, particularly for top-level searches.
3. Consider “Full-Scope” & Boutique Firms.
There are a number of major, well-known recruiting firms with international reach, such as Spencer Stuart and Heidrick & Struggles, whose practice encompasses all of the major functional roles, including board of director searches. They are frequently identified in releases addressing newly hired senior executives and quoted in the media. Boutique firms such as Chadick Ellig and Canny Bowen that focus on a limited number of functional areas, including board of director searches, should be explored as well. See our non-exclusive list of recruiters in our Director Recruitment/Board Diversity Practice Area.
4. Access Associations’ Director Databases and Recruiter Networks.
There are a number of associations that maintain databases of potential director candidates for recruiters and companies to access (e.g., CalPERS’ and CalSTRS’ 3D (Diverse Director DataSource), Corporate Board Member’s The Director Database and NACD’s Director Registry) or have developed recruiter networks that you may access as a member (e.g., Alliance for Board Diversity, DirectWomen, Catalyst and the Women’s Forum of New York).
Morrison and Romanek are Editors of TheCorporateCounsel.net. Each has more than 20 years of experience in various legal roles and writes extensively about matters important to General Counsel.