Brand Amplifier series – How to get a Non Executive Director (NED) position

Brand Amplifier Series – How to get a Non-Executive Director (NED) position

I’ve been spending a lot of my time on Personal Brand work of late and have been privileged enough to be asked to talk about personal brand building in a few speaker series sessions. 

With the growing interest in Personal Brand work, I thought I would add in some focussed blogs on what I call ‘Brand Amplifiers’.  

I talk a lot about what a personal brand consists of and how you build it but brand amplifiers take your brand to the next level. They are things you can do to get yourself out there, add to your personal profile and CV and increase your value. Added to this you learn a lot as a NED, you increase your network and you build fungible skills that you can use elsewhere.

The first in this series is how to get yourself a NED position.

What exactly is a Non-Executive Director (NED)?

A NED is someone who provides a creative contribution to the board of a company by providing independent oversight and constructive challenge to the executive directors. The important distinction here is that they are independent and impartial.

What are their key responsibilities?

Firstly, a NED is responsible for providing strategic direction to the board. They have an outsider’s perspective so are able to offer alternative thinking and creative solutions to the executives. They are responsible for monitoring performance. Many large organisations are often required to have a group of NEDs to provide oversight by the local regulator or governing bodies. The NED’s take the position of monitoring the performance of the executive management, especially with regard to progress against company strategy and objectives. NEDs are often required to take a view on the risks present within the company and are required to satisfy themselves that the integrity of financial and non-financial controls, systems and processes are robust. Similarly, NEDs are often asked to take an ‘audit’ type of role in ensuring that the company is representing itself appropriately in all aspects including financial accounts and that the required controls are in place. Lastly, a NED can bring outside contacts and resources to bear which can be particularly useful for smaller organisations.

What skills do you need to have to be a NED?

The skills of a NED can be very wide-ranging which means some NED positions can be out of reach for some however, because of that very same reason, a healthy dose of common sense and a range of practical skills can enable you to get a NED position. Here are some questions to ask yourself when thinking about your skills:

  • Do I have a specialism? Some NED positions can be quite specific e.g., the role of Treasurer. Some organisations will also look for a NED with marketing, communication or capital raising skills. Are you in finance? Are you in communications? If you are a Chief Financial Officer or Chief Communications or Marketing Office you have an advantage.
  • Do you have a strategic leaning in what you do? Do you come with strong business management skills? Are you a Chief Administration Officer, a Chief Operating Officer or a business manager? Do you have a qualification in business management such as a degree or an MBA? Because of the nature of the role of a NED, if you have some kind of background in strategy then this will be an advantage
  • Do you have risk or audit background? Whether you are a control manager, risk manager or audit, risk experience is increasing in importance in NED positions.

Outside of these positions, life experience, leadership experience or team management experience, and entrepreneurial experience will all contribute to your profile and to your appeal. Do a complete skills audit and note down everything you have. If you have taken a non-Executive role at your children’s school this can also be a great stepping stone to a more ‘corporate’ NED role. 

What if I don’t have any of these skills or I don’t have experience in the positions you mention?

This is often a question I get asked by women I mentor or coach. My answer is always the same…if you look hard enough you will find you have one or another of these skills even if you aren’t in a job with a relevant job description. Think laterally. Have you been part of a community fundraising activity or do you volunteer and help out with administration or bookkeeping? Are you a dab hand at social media marketing? These will all add to your profile and brand so think laterally. There is more than one way to skin a cat.

If you are serious about wanting to be a NED then you need to build the skills required. Look at the NED positions that appeal to you and the skills and experience that they are looking for. Then, it’s very simple, narrow down the skills and experience that interests you most and build that skill. If you are excited by helping an organisation build their strategy then build your strategic understanding, volunteer for strategic projects at work, and take a course. Build the CV you need for the NED position you want. It will take time but it’s actually that simple.

So how do I find a NED position?

These are the most popular ways of securing yourself a NED position

Websites or Social Media

There are plenty of intermediaries/organisations that advertise NED positions. Women on Boards is a popular one although it’s only free if you are part of an organisation that is a corporate member otherwise you have to pay to get access to the vacancy board. The NED exchange, Virtual NonExecs and  NEDonboard are similar offerings but again, you need to pay some kind of annual registration fee and services like matching with board members may be extra. These companies also offer training (some for free) for aspiring NED’s so are worth checking out.

Some broadsheets such as The Guardian and The Times advertise vacancies and a number of mainstream recruitment firms also advertise positions. As a rule of thumb, the more specialist and focussed they are, the more effective they are likely to be but please do note my terms and conditions here (!) that I am in no way personally vouching for any of these companies and providing any view on their competence or capability.

Your Network

If you have friends or colleagues who are NEDs then tap them up. They may be able to refer you. Also, talk to people whom you know at Small to Medium Enterprises who may be looking to create NED positions. Offer your services now or in the future. Put the word out to all the people you know and ask them to refer you or bear you in mind when hearing about opportunities. Also, if you have people in your network who are NEDS, At the very least ask them for their expertise and advice on being a NED. It will be invaluable.

Start at the beginning

If you have no experience being a NED or are still building the required skills then the chances are you won’t get a fully paid NED position at a large corporation immediately. So, start small. Go for NED positions that are not renumerated. Try NED positions in lesser-known charities. Look for NED positions or advisory positions at local schools or not for profit organisations. If you can’t secure a NED position, volunteer and/or offer to be an advisor, particularly in organisations or industries that interest you. Try a lateral move and volunteer for associations or governing bodies in the area you are interested in. This is often an effective way to make the move across. These approaches may be a slower burn but if you persevere and keep expressing interest, something will come up.

Wishing you the best of luck!