How to Get on Boards: Address Cyber Risk



Trusted to serve

As the season changes and we return from summer vacations, many boards are on the hunt for new directors. If the calls I receive are any indication, nominations committees are not looking for generalists. They are seeking experienced leaders with specific knowledge; expertise that can address the searing pain felt by boards today.

Cyber risk is a hot topic confronting nearly every board of directors. Most boards are keen to address the exposure, despite not knowing how. In 2011, the Lloyd’s of London Risk Index ranked cyber risk in twelfth place on board agendas. Two years later, cyber risk had risen to third place. When Lloyd’s publishes an update next month, I expect cybersecurity’s climb to have continued.

Some executives with expertise in hot areas are surprised when their board interviews are not slam dunks. They assume that being an authority on risk management, digital strategy or omni-channel IT is sufficient. As with any job interview, however, our ability to connect with the interviewer and demonstrate our value is critical.

Before your next board interview, consider 3 ways to ensure that you convert your specialized knowledge into an invitation.

1. Know your audience

If a nominations committee is openly searching for a specific skill set, there is a good chance that their knowledge of the field is thin. On that particular topic, you might be the smartest person in the room.

This doesn’t mean, however, that you should overwhelm your interviewers with your know-how. Instead, your goal should be to simplify the topic so the interviewers feel like that have learned something from and with you. Without jargon, describe your approach to risk oversight. Read the room to assess whether the board knows what it doesn’t know. Illustrate how having you on the board will help directors sleep at night.

2. Ask informed, insightful questions

To help your potential colleagues rest easy, posing smart questions reveals your command for the nuances underlying a risk. For example, you might demonstrate an informed view of cyber risk by asking the following:

  • How does the board strike the right balance between setting IT priorities and treading into management’s domain?
  • Is the organization exposed to the cybersecurity of third parties outside your control?
  • Does the board seek advice from experts in cyber risk ? Has the organization hired an auditor to assess its preparedness for a breach?
  • What cybersecurity insurance is in place? Which assets are protected (e.g., customer data, chemical formulations, patented manufacturing processes)?
  • Are there policies and procedures in place to address a breach? Has the management team rehearsed its response?

Corporate director Becky Finley credits smart questions with helping her land her first board appointment:

“I asked a ton of questions about the business when I met with the chair. Then, I compared it back what I had seen elsewhere. I think that helped him see how I could contribute in real time.”

3. Shed light on the implications

Asking thoughtful questions may expose the severity of a risk. Your goal is not to cause a panic, however, so you’ll want to quickly demonstrate how the board can seek reasonable assurance.

I find it helpful to describe a collection of best practices related to the concerning subject. Engage in dialogue on how the organization’s current situation compares with this ideal. Brainstorm when and how the organization might work its way towards sound footing over the next 12 months.

Referring to your professional track record bolsters your credibility in these discussions. The board will value those who have previously solved the problem at hand. It’s also important to look to the future and reflect on your theories for where the field is heading. Imagining how the source of risk will change in the coming years demonstrates the positive difference you could make immediately.


If you have expertise in a sensitive field, you may have already been tapped by executive search firms and nominations committees. Progressing beyond that first phone call depends on your ability to put people at ease and engage them collaboratively. Give your interviewers a glimpse of how well you’ll work together and they will more likely give you a seat at the table.

Question: What are the hot topics facing the organizations that you serve? Are there others on the horizon?




How to Get on Boards: Address Cyber Risk

by Tamara time to read: 3 min