Starting your Board Career? Here’s What to do First


This is the most common challenge for aspiring board members. Deciding to join a board feels like the hard decision to make until you make it.

What follows next is ‘now what?’.

The world of boards seems clandestine and to get on one you must be part of a special (secret) club and pay lots of money for the privilege.

The perspective that the general population may have of boards is heavily skewed towards the ‘big end of town’ – the Boards of ASX-listed companies where board members are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars, where entry onto those boards comes via long-term relationships with the existing board members or due to your highly unique value proposition gained from a life-long career (in politics or some other highly-specific role). This is not indicative of most boards and is certainly not where most of us will be starting our board careers.

As someone who had humble beginnings with parents who were most definitely not ‘connected’ to the ‘right’ people, being on boards was not even in the realm of possibilities for my future. As someone who has gone on to build a successful board career (as I would measure it at this point in my overall career and life), the ‘right’ start in life is not a pre-requisite to getting onto boards.

So, if we’ve established that the odds aren’t against us, how *do* we start our board career? Here’s where I recommend starting if you’re at this point of your board journey.

  1. Know what you’re getting yourself into

Boards serve an important role in an organisation. Therefore, the directors – those people who make up the board – need to do certain things and not do others.

Every organisation is a little bit different when it comes to their requirements of its board members. What is universally shared across all boards in all industries is director responsibility for the governance of the organisation, and hopefully governing in a way that leads to desired outcomes (usually positive organisation performance and achievement of mission/purpose).

If you are not clear on what corporate governance is, what sort of activities and standards it requires, and how accountable directors are, please embark on an exploration of these topics. Google is your friend and there are many articles, podcasts, videos, webinars, and other low-to-no cost ways of building your preliminary understanding of corporate governance. This will help you to feel prepared for the boardroom.

Watch: Company Director 101 

Watch: Getting to Know Corporate Governance

After this step, if you’re still willing to progress on your board journey…

  1. Set a Board Goal

Having a direction for your board search activities is going to help you to be more strategic, waste less time, and increase the likelihood of you actually getting onto a board while avoiding ending up somewhere you don’t want to be.

Your board goal(s) will indicate the unique value proposition you need to demonstrate and how best to demonstrate it, who to network with in your existing network, who to add to your current network, where to look for opportunities for these types of boards, and what information to include in your board resume.

Going through the process of setting a board goal helps you to calibrate your expectations by getting clear on what you have to offer and which boards want/need that. Positioning yourself in the right way to the right boards will contribute greatly to your board career success and is a process you iterate as you build out your board career over time.

Read: How to Set a Board Goal

Listen: Setting and Calibrating your Board Goal

Before telling the world ‘I want to get on a board’ work through these two steps. You’ll then have a compelling message that communicates *which* boards, *why* you want to join them, and why *you* should be their next board member.

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