How Non-Executive Directors can build their professional networks and find work

Building your professional network is a crucial part of the process of finding suitable Non-Executive Director (NED) roles.

You’ve got years of CEO experience under your belt and you’re fired up to use it in a role as an NED. It’s a common scenario – but while it’s likely that you have a great deal to offer, you may have to invest more time and effort into growing your network before you get started.

Finding NED roles can be hard work. They often won’t be advertised, instead being passed on by word of mouth. So, if you want to hear about potential openings, it’s crucial that you are talking to the right people.

A survey by Board Appointments revealed that only 20% of NEDs are found through headhunting and job advertisements. On the flipside, 65% came through a personal connection and 15% from somebody approaching a company directly.

Finding an NED role through your personal network doesn’t mean that you won’t have to make an official application, though. Most NEDs in the survey said they had to complete a written application, and many also had to deal with recruiters at some point.

This means that, alongside the effort that goes into nurturing your community of board-level professionals, you will also need to invest time in polishing your CV (use our guide on how to create a CV for a Non-Executive Director role to help you).

Who should potential NEDs connect with?

Your role as an NED involves leadership thinking at Board level, so it’s important to nurture connections with senior professionals who have Board experience themselves. These are the people who will hear about new openings as they arise.

But building contacts isn’t just about hearing about new NED roles. If you have the right network for a particular business, it’s also a selling point when you apply.

Be strategic in your approach. The companies you apply to will want to know that you have the right network for their needs. For them, it’s all about who you can bring in to their business and the introductions you can make that will benefit them. 

Consider these questions as you build your community: 

  • What companies will you be applying to?
  • What contacts will be attractive to them?
  • What are their strategic aims and objectives and what type of people do you know who can help them reach these aims?
  • What industries and specialisms do you want to work in?

Being clear about these points will help you grow your network more efficiently rather than wasting time talking to the wrong people. Go for quality over quantity – having a smaller number of well-targeted, high-level connections will be more worthwhile than endless people who are irrelevant to the posts you’re going after.

Using this approach, you will know exactly what contacts you have that are useful to the business you’re talking to when it comes to interview time.

How to grow your personal community

Now comes the real work of getting out there and making connections. There are lots of in-roads to meeting new people, so try to make it a natural part of everything you do, whether you’re working at home or out and about.

Stay alert to opportunities, even at times when you might not expect to meet the right person, such as events at your children’s school or a casual evening out with friends.

Use these ideas as starting points:

1. Nurture LinkedIn 

Remember the quality over quantity rule here. You may well have hundreds or even thousands of LinkedIn connections already – but how many do you interact with or know personally?

Take time to respond to the posts of people you want to develop a relationship with. Take interest in what they’re doing to make your connection more meaningful.

It’s also worth finding relevant groups on LinkedIn and becoming active within them. This will put your profile in front of the right people and make your name more familiar to them.

2. Attend events and meetups

This is easier to do than ever, thanks to the surge of online events post-pandemic. Take a targeted approach, or you could spend your entire day on Zoom or travelling to events.

Look at the delegate list before you attend if it’s available and turn up prepared to meet a few key people. Always connect with the people you talk to on LinkedIn and send a brief follow-up message the next day to establish the relationship.

3. Invest time in one-to-one meetings

Now you’ve spent time nurturing new relationships on LinkedIn and at events, it’s time to reach out to the most relevant contacts and arrange a one-to-one meeting. Be upfront – explain that you’re looking for an NED role and explain what you’re after so they can contact you if anything arises.

4. Demonstrate thought leadership

This is all about building a personal profile to showcase your knowledge and experience. It will help to attract more people into your personal network, and it also looks impressive when you apply for NED positions.

Take time to post thought-provoking posts relevant to your industry on LinkedIn and look for opportunities to talk at webinars and events. 

5. Join relevant trade associations 

Many trade associations have their own networking activities that are only open to members, as well as online databases encouraging people to connect. These can be invaluable in meeting people within a specific industry.

6. Build contacts through pro bono work

Getting your first paid position on a Board can be tricky, but offering your expertise pro bono to a charity or startup is the perfect way to get your foot in the door. Not only will it give you experience for your CV, it will also help you to grow more Board-level contacts.

How Transpire can help you build your NED network

Transpire Connect is our unique service that helps you build your network, meet industry-leading NEDs all over the world and showcase your talents. 

Through this online peer group platform you can:

  • View member profiles and make personal connections
  • Harness the power of the Transpire Network by asking questions, posting articles and joining discussions
  • Learn about, sign up for and join CPD & Networking Events, both Open Sessions and Members-Only Faculty-Led events

We also run members-only events where you can network with peers and learn about topical issues facing boards from recognised thought leaders.

Our events programme covers topical issues facing boards today, with live discussions and networking for our members. 

Find out more about Transpire membership and how it can help you grow your network.

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