In our latest article, City CV’s Founder & CEO, Victoria McLean, gives her perspective on how executives can transition effectively to NED roles. She will probe the intricacies of an NED role, identify which skills are the most sought after, consider the balance of personal motivation with wider organisation benefits and finish with expert advice on how to make the transition successful, sustainable and satisfying.

What do NEDs bring to the (boardroom) table? 

I often hear that one of the main benefits of pursuing an NED role is the opportunity to shape an organisation that means something to you without the full-time commitment or requirement to be immersed at an operational level. It’s worth reiterating the value and skills that NEDs bring to a board as it differentiates their contribution from other C-suite roles and responsibilities. Regardless of sector or size of organisation, an NED offers:

  • Impartial and highly valued advice, frequently in policymaking, planning and strategy.
  • Expertise and capability in a specialist field
  • High emotional intelligence and understanding of board dynamics
  • Influence with the gravitas and diplomacy to challenge the status quo
  • Clear-sightedness and confidence to scrutinise performance
  • Keen evaluation skills
  • Understanding of governance and regulatory frameworks
  • Independent mindset and a balanced view
  • Resilience and adaptability

We’ve noticed in the last twelve months how the NED role is diversifying in the wake of global digital transformation and the need to respond to market conditions in an agile way. Added to this, we’ve seen a rise in candidates from technical and digital backgrounds who can bring their knowledge of how AI and big data can be used to boost efficiencies, drive profits and predict future demand in a wide range of settings.

Planning for success

Think about your current board experience. Unless you’re already acting as a NED, you may only have your own role as an example. Being a CEO and making sole decisions with organisation-wide ramifications is very different to contributing as a NED to board level decision making – and all the cultural and interpersonal elements this naturally involves.

So you may be competing with NEDs who already have plenty of relevant experience and existing portfolio careers. Without experience, it could be harder to make the transition to the board room as a NED. It can be a complicated process. It’s certainly competitive. And it’s not usually quick.

To get yourself match fit, there are three key areas where you should devote your time and energy as a transitioning executive:

  • Invest in a period of self-reflection: dig deep to understand your personal qualities and skills and how these translate to a NED role.
  • Invest in research: get familiar with how boards appoint NEDs. The majority use a combination of specialist recruiter firms, search firms, adverts and networking as well as the (less frequent) direct approach.
  • Invest in your personal brand: square up your supporting documents and personal branding to include a strong LinkedIn profile that reflects your distinctiveness, as well as a tailored CV.
Ned role success
What’s in it for you?

There could several reasons why you are ready to transition to an NED role.  You may be propelled by a desire to share your expertise and experience with an organisation which appeals to your interests; you may want to pursue a portfolio career which offers flexibility and sits alongside other commitments. You might wish to amplify your skills and broaden your knowledge to elevate your career and explore new opportunities.

As an independent advisor, you’ll be setting strategic direction and as recent times have shown, helping a board adapt to fast-changing circumstances in an agile way. Today’s boards are often receptive to executives with a mix of public sector and commercial backgrounds, with the ability to understand governance and regulatory frameworks as well as budgets, profits and people management.

Remuneration is an integral factor for corporate NEDs. According to a WTW study analysing NED salaries in FTSE 100 companies, the typical range was £61 – £80,000 per annum. NEDS can sometimes also agree a day rate for consultancy that extends beyond their regular commitment, and this can span £1,000 – £4,000.

Whatever is driving you, make sure you do your due diligence and find out as much as you can about company strategy, KPIs and market positioning  before you craft your application.

Securing your first NED role

According to a July 2020 survey on board appointments, 65% of  NEDs are sourced through personal connections – with the remainder through headhunting and responses to advertisements plus the occasional direct approach. All this highlights the value of building networks and of using platforms like LinkedIn. A strong and engaging profile that’s optimised for success will position you as an individual with authority. Build on this by making regular connections, attending network events and writing – then sharing – articles to reiterate and cement your expertise and interest.

When you’re beginning this journey, it can be valuable to offer pro bono work and free mentoring to start ups or organisations in a public or not-for-profit sector that can draw on your generic skills.

Similarly, explore consultancy as a way into a new company so that you are front of mind when that business develops and they need top level guidance and support.

Throughout your executive career, you will  undoubtedly have focused on personal and professional development. There are courses that can help you hone your skills and prepare for an NED role, for example, the upcoming FT non-executive director diploma, or others run by the Institute of Directors.

“The role of a board member is increasingly complex, and requires specific skills and knowledge. It is not merely the natural extension of an executive career. Those who wish to exercise their role in a professional manner will recognise the need for a significant investment in their own skills and competencies before accepting a board-level mandate.” Dr Roger Barker, head of corporate governance at the IoD

Promoting your chances of success at interview

We always advise executives to have realistic expectations – the selection process is very thorough and can take months. Board interviews and assessments can be intense. There’s no showmanship here, it’s more about credibility and competence – you’ll be in a strong position if you can demonstrate that you understand key business drivers and confident enough to challenge decisions in a constructive way.

Like many other executive roles, personality can play a part. For NEDs, it’s about being assured without being arrogant. Integrity and ethical resilience are also important. These qualities add to the image you build and will demonstrate culture fit. Chemistry is also a significant factor – levelled with the importance boards place on diversity of thinking and the value of differing perspectives. Boards evolve and develop so long-term commitment is good: this is no place for a fleeting presence or quick fix.

Take advantage of third party perspective

External support can be very useful. Leverage the power of your personal network bolstered by experts who can help you tailor your CV, perfect your branding and even coach you for interviews.

If you’re short on experience, it’s a good idea to take on charity trustee roles on a voluntary basis – these environments are rich in well connected, senior NEDs who can help you grow your network and alert you to opportunities.

To sum up, be clear about why an NED role appeals to you, be ready to show your skills and expertise and ‘match fitness’ and be willing to devote time to enriching and propagating your role once you land it.

You can also find out more about why now is the right time to seek an NED role.