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Applying for a Non -Executive Role? Time to up your game!
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Applying for a Non -Executive Role? Time to up your game!


It appears that the way you find and get NXD / NXC roles is changing and most certainly for the better.

Recently discussed at a Chairman’s Network Coffee meeting, it’s clear a general application is no longer effective and any application should be as pertinent and focused as any executive application. 

Competition is tighter than ever for every role with so many senior and experienced people taking the portfolio route, now financially secure and aiming to give more balance and flexibility to their working lives.

But it’s not for the faint hearted and should never be a career for the financially insecure. Financial security is essential because the constant challenge and stress of finding new roles means that what started as a lifestyle choice now becomes a drudge.

The networking route is often one of the best ways to source suitable opportunities, but you cannot come to every networking event and ask for a job, even though we are all buying or selling something - as that’s why we’re in business! 

It’s best to find a way to build rapport and trust with new people and their businesses by taking a helpful, collaborative approach that may or may not lead to opportunity. Offer some help or ad-hoc advice. Follow up after the meeting with a link to your Linked-In or Chairman’s Network profile- in case you or they can be of assistance going forward.

The most outgoing, friendly and engaging senior executives appear to get the best opportunities via the networking route which is how it appears most Non- Executive roles are uncovered and placed.

You certainly need to invest the time with the right networks to build new bridges and relationships. We can never have enough good, pertinent business connections, old and new.

As Chairmen/NXD and CEO’s, many of our Members are quietly building Boards but waiting for the right personal connection before approaching anybody about a Board role.

The alternative route of applying for a role via a search firm or advert is now fraught with challenges- as well as opportunity .

Finally, we are starting to have a more even playing field for men, women and diversity in general along with much more focus on specific skills, expertise and experience, which I think is good for both Boards and Business. 

Can you be on the Board of a Cloud software business when you have little or no technology background? Yes, in theory and certainly in the past, but that may not be the case today. It does depend on the remit of that particular role of course e.g. your experience on the Remuneration Committee maybe very suited, but I do see a tightening of the brief to include all aspects if possible.

And because it’s a buyers’ market the client/search firm can afford to be selective!

Many of these roles are privately advertised on platforms such as Nurole ( and The Chairman’s Network ( and are not going public at all. Some are on Linked In and various niche sites, but they are potentially viewed by thousands and applied by hundreds which makes the job even harder for both client and applicant.

A general NXD/NXC CV and no decent cover letter will not make the grade.

Recruiters and head-hunters are in data overload! We speed read and make most of our decisions on page one- "yes, no, maybe". We rarely go back to maybe. So, if you’re not in the yes pile from the get- go, the odds are you’re not considered.

When you do find a role that fits, the application, focus and content as to experience and suitability is paramount!

Edit your CV, make sure your linked in profile is excellent and up to date as well as any websites where you may be mentioned. Google yourself to find out where and how you are represented and whether there is any historic data that need to be removed such as old board roles etc. This preparation should be done well before you apply for anything and can take time to address. Any hiring executive will Google you!

When applying for the role the CV and cover letter need to be aligned and you need to highlight and edit all the relevant experience and write an excellent covering letter in line with that specific role.

Nothing else is worth doing.

If you’re not at least a 70% match, it’s probably not worth applying. Most head-hunters and recruiters will be looking for that.

Men are finding it quite tough! At the Chairman’s Network Coffee Meeting last week, we had a great woman with four senior roles including the recent addition of a major airline and the guys were finding that, as their existing roles were completing, their applications were not proving successful. After a highly successful executive career, she has struggled for years to build her portfolio against many odds and has finally and deservedly got there, using a highly focused approach.

What has changed?

The essential need for Diversity; more executives going the portfolio route and challenging business conditions in many sectors, as well as the need to be an engaged and pro-active Board Member who is adding real value and is not simply a name or passive character on the Board.

Non- Executives are required to go the extra mile to keep up with the Boards and businesses on which they sit, as well as accommodating a much broader range of views and opinions from a more diverse and challenging board.

It’s certainly not an easy route to take for anybody.

In house Private Equity and VC recruiters will have a bank of trusted executives that they will introduce to boards and business, but they too are now looking more closely at evaluating the whole board and balance and how best to raise shareholder value through the optimum team.

So, you may be a great fit, but not right for that team!

Time for everybody to up their game it seems!

Caroline Hayward is CEO/Founder of The Chairman’s Network

If you are a Chairman, NXD, CEO or Entrepreneur, join or register for a free event at

+ 44(0)1242 236277


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