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Published on: Feb. 22, 2021, 10:55 a.m.
Icebreakers for board wannabes
  • Professional networking sites such as LinkedIn have become the go-to online tool for career development; Courtesy: Pixabay

By Dr M. Muneer and Ralph Ward

One of our earlier columns had emphasised on the importance of making the first contact with the boards an aspiring director is keen to serve. While it provided a good overall plan for making a board-seeker ‘first contact’, it did not delve deeper into the details. 

A multitude of professional networking sites such as LinkedIn have become the go-to online tool for career development. Indeed, you must make your profile strong to get board attention and search though, in India, most family-owned companies want meek independent directors, who can approve whatever the promoter-chair wants. But it is set to change sooner than later and quality directors will be in high demand soon. 

Here’s how you can make use of professional networks to break ice with potential boards that you are interested in:

Most board aspirants know how to make a LinkedIn or networking site page with appealing board-seeker vitae. Just in case, here are some highlights: Know that anyone who responds to you on the sites will surely view your profile first. Make sure it delivers a board-value message. And, work to expand your own connections and network before you launch your candidacy as a ‘board wannabe’. The more people you know on the network, the better your odds of making a ‘who knows who’ link. 

Now turn those tools around to dig into boardroom gatekeeper specifics. Assuming a target company’s board chair or nominating/governance chair is on the networking site, study their details for board clues. How long has a director served on the board of the particular enterprise? What other board engagements he or she has? What is his/her current job role, and past track record? Which college or university he/she attended? Before making contact, analyse these clues, especially the board and work history, for potential shared background.

All networking sites help here by showing you mutual contacts in the highlights section. Go through these to gauge how strong your shared connections are. Use judgement though, in bugging these third parties for an introduction. Consider this: How many times you have been in touch with most of your own connections after the initial contact?

Now you are ready to make your network board wannabe contact. Options here depend on the level of your networking site account. For instance, LinkedIn Premium adds some valuable tools, such as allowing you to send direct messages to people before they accept your connection invite (and also to see their email address). Paid option in most networking sites probably is the number one outreach tool for board contacts. In fact, many recruiting firms are major users of such services. A membership at this level lets you run with the big horses. Despite the cost, you are eligible to get a free trial to see if such paid options work for you.

If you are unable to sent a cold-call message directly, you will need to reach out to the target board leader with a connection request. Introduce yourself, but be short and crisp. Connection requests are best limited to less than 250 characters, so every keystroke counts, just as in Twitter. 

Mention something personal about the potential connect you are trying to approach for the first board contact (shared contact, career or training; article or comment you liked) and ask to connect. Since it is tough to sell your board capability and interest well in 250 or so characters, don’t try it at this point. Concentrate on just getting the board member to accept your request (and avoid attaching your vitae, links or other enclosures – it will look like spamming). 

Congratulations! The board member at the target company has accepted your invite. Now is the time to mention your interest in governance at the company and to offer a brief summary of your specific board skills. Once you have made a networking site connection, you should be able to see the contact’s e-mail address on their page. Once you make a connection, quickly move the discussion away from the professional networking sites. Even seasoned networkers aren’t checking the site as often as they check their e-mail. If the board contact’s profile page doesn’t share an e-mail address, use the site’s messenger to request it.

Crafting initial connection messages is an art in itself. And, if you follow the six guidelines, you will be able to progress towards your board wannabe goal.

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