How To Get On Boards with Executive Search Firms



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by Tamara Paton in How to get on board
How to Get On Boards with Executive Search Firms | Tamara Paton

The role of executive search firms in managerial hiring is well understood. And they certainly play a role in placing CEOs on big bank boards. But are they relevant to those of us who are building a board career in the trenches?

After the past year, I answer that question with a resounding “yes”.

When an executive recruiter called me recently, I was this close to rhyming off my standard list of people who make terrific VP, Strategy candidates. That’s why recruiters always call me. Almost always, that is.

When the caller asked if I would be interested in a board opportunity, I smiled broadly, knowing that I’ve been down this road before. Today, I’ll explore how to get on boards with executive search firms.

First, an overview of the process
The first call typically comes from an associate, often a crackerjack twenty-something. The caller is screening to assess potential candidates’ interest, availability, potential conflicts, and overall executive presence.

Assuming all goes well over the phone, the candidate meets with a more senior recruiter, potentially the partner leading the engagement. This conversation lasts about an hour and again feels rather preliminary in nature. In my recent experience, I’m not sure what the recruiting partner learned about me in the first meeting, beyond my ability to make dinner party-level conversation about events in the client’s industry. Like a typical consultant, I asked more questions than I answered.

At this point, the process goes underground. The recruiter will present a slate of candidates to the client’s nomination committee chair. The committee will select five or six candidates to interview within a month of the candidate’s last contact with the recruiter. During the wait between meetings, candidates’ optimism about the opportunity varies from “I’ve got the world on a string” to “No one will ever hire me again”. Fortunately, my self-esteem recovers nicely when the search process continues and I’m still a part of it.

From this point forward, the process varies with the urgency a board feels to fill the role. Candidates often meet with the CEO to learn more about the organization’s strategy. Dinner with a few directors is common, if only to assess fit with the board’s culture. From the recruiter’s call to the first board meeting, the process can take about four months.

How to appear on search firms’ radar
Successful directors are known for knowing something. We build our professional brand when colleagues and competitors notice our results. Active networking and a lively social media presence can demonstrate and amplify our performance record and thought leadership.

Once friends and colleagues know of our interest in board-related topics, they can point recruiters and nominations committees our way. In addition, recruiters often attend training events, such as Deloitte’s Director’s Series or an ICD seminar. They watch the “Directors on the Move” section of governance journals and find what they call “diversity candidates” in lists published by Catalyst or the Canadian Board Diversity Council.

Regardless of the referral source, a recruiter relies heavily on LinkedIn. Now is a great time to ensure that our profiles are up-to-date and polished.

In a future post, I’ll dive deep into the interview process. In the meantime, how would you describe your experience with executive recruiters? Do boards commonly engage their services or do your boards rely on other methods?





How To Get On Boards with Executive Search Firms

by Tamara time to read: 2 min