Board Savvy December 23, 2019

Proven Strategies for Landing a Board Seat

By Samantha Lorenzo Board Support

As Athena’s Board Support Manager, I work closely with Athena members to connect them with CEOs and boards seeking experienced, board-ready female candidates. Every member I speak with is excited about landing a board seat, however, landing a board seat is a process that can take even the most qualified candidates several years to achieve. I frequently get asked, “What does it take?” While I don’t have all the answers, I can share some insights gleaned from women leaders within Athena who tend to get a lot of attention and activity around board opportunities. 

Take a practical approach to your board search. 

It’s common to start your board career by serving on smaller boards before taking on larger boards. For example, an Athena member may join us with non-profit or startup advisory role experience. Then they may join a mid-size private board, and then a larger private board. They may then see that larger private company to its IPO. And then perhaps they join a mid-cap public company. Just like many career stories, board service tends to grow and build over time. 

Align with the type of company you’re seeking. 

If you’ve got your eye on public boards, yet you’ve never worked for a public company, you may want to take some time to gain operational experience in a public company. The same goes for startups. If you’re excited about the idea of a fast-paced startup environment, but you’ve never worked at one, you may want to take on a few paid operational roles or unpaid advisory roles before applying to venture-backed startups or growth-stage companies. Boards will want to see that you “get” their environment, their work culture, and their way of doing things. 

Be receptive to feedback. 

Feedback is critical as you evaluate board service. This applies to your board documents, such as your bio and CV, as well as your readiness, presentation, and thought leadership skills. You’re already a highly accomplished leader. Feedback will help you take your leadership capabilities one step further. Rely on your team of Athena coaches, your Personal Chief of Staff, and myself as we seek to present you in the best light and guide you in the (often tedious) process of applying to and interviewing for board seats.

Put in the effort to customize your pitch.

You should be presenting yourself in a unique way for every single board role that comes your way, just as you would expect someone to do on a job application. Read about the opportunity and consider how you’re a strong, unique fit.

Know you’re competing against other highly accomplished leaders.

It’s not a hole in one. Your application sits alongside many other respected and sought-after women leaders. This is why it’s more important than ever to have current board documents, a customized pitch and an overall polished approach to applications. It’s your chance to make a memorable and professional first impression. 

Don’t discount the power of networking.

Networking can feel transactional—even cheap. But it doesn’t have to be that way; it can be about forming meaningful, long-lasting, and mutually beneficial relationships. Make time to reach out to influencers in your circle. Even more importantly, make time to step one or two layers beyond your circle, outside your comfort zone, to get in front of the right audiences and make connections that count. Athena can help you make these important connections, so please engage your Personal Chief of Staff to keep them informed of your goals. 

Give without regrets.

Give. Collaborate. Mentor. Help another women leader. Engagements and acts of kindness go a long way. It could be that you take a call during your busy week. Perhaps you mentor a member in need. Or you refer a peer to a board opportunity. Whatever it may be, remember that the best way to get what you want is to help others get what they want. In the world of board service, these words couldn’t ring truer.