Building a strong personal brand is crucial to success in pursuing an advisory or NED career but requires a huge change in approach to that of your corporate career.
We examined some of the main factors to consider when transitioning your skills and experience to appeal to recruiting boards and businesses.
Know your value
To stand out as an advisor or NED, you really need to crystallise exactly what you can offer to founders, SLTs and boards. Listing out your skills and experience is a great starting point, but thinking about your unique qualities or achievements can help to differentiate you from the competition. Was there a particular triumph in your career that could sell you to a board? Have you had an unusual but varied career path? Do you have a particular skill that could translate well to your chosen industry or sector? Can you add diversity of thought or experience to a particular business? Don’t simply explicate your skills and experience, make sure you are framing them in a way that has synergy with the roles you want.
The world increasingly lives online, and the process of finding board roles is no exception. Your online presence as a NED or advisor will be the primary way in which founders and boards come to know who you are - and first impressions count. LinkedIn is the main vehicle through which to showcase yourself and it can be an incredibly powerful tool in attracting the attention of recruiting businesses. It can also sound the death knell for any further conversations if you don’t get it right.
You should make sure that your activity on LinkedIn - and any other social platform - is professional and relevant to your career aspirations. The content you create or share (more of that later), the connections you have and your professional information must give the impression of an engaged, highly-skilled and adaptable professional. LinkedIn allows you to position your experience and skills in a totally different way to your executive career, and you should think carefully about which experiences you highlight and what your headline says about you. Are you an experienced engineer with managerial experience or a strategic professional with global experience in leading teams? Remember, the qualities being sought in advisors and NEDs are different to those of a C-suite executive.
Position yourself as an authority
You have all the experience and skills that any business in your chosen sector could possibly want - but how do you get the message out there? As a NED or Advisor, positioning yourself as an authority by creating valuable content, knowledge sharing and engaging in thought leadership can create huge visibility of you and your brand.
LinkedIn is a great starting point for this and something as simple as regularly sharing thought-provoking, relevant and interesting third party content can really boost your profile. It can also help to build connections with those whose content you share or their mutual contacts. Don’t limit yourself to industry research or news articles from major outlets; find other active thought leaders and professionals in your field and comment on and share their posts and content.
To take things to the next level, consider creating your own content. Blogs, articles or even short videos can really boost your engagement on LinkedIn and give you the kudos which comes with sharing your own valuable and informed opinions and knowledge. Approach this as a showcase for the skills and attributes you could bring to a board role - by offering advice and sharing knowledge openly, you are providing a taster of the insights you could bring to a business who goes on to recruit you.
It’s also worth considering taking part in podcasts, webinars and events to reach a whole new audience. Can there be a better shop window than appearing in front of a targeted audience who are actively seeking information and insights into your chosen sector or industry? What’s more, the fact you have been chosen to contribute on a particular topic will help you to build that all important gravitas as a thought leader.
Mindset is everything! This doesn’t come naturally to some but it’s an absolute must that you go all-in on putting yourself in the best light, and take positive actions to be visible to recruiting boards and businesses. Gone are your executive days of internal promotions, recommendations and leg-ups. You are going out cold to a market which doesn’t know you, your proposition or your value. So be bold, be big and make sure you’re seen. In the NED and Advisory world you have to be your own biggest cheerleader!
Networking might not seem like the most obvious way to build your personal brand in an increasingly digital world, but the power of human connection cannot be underestimated. While digitalisation and the worldwide pandemic have seen an undeniable shift towards online events, there is still a huge appetite for in-person networking.
This offers the chance to make an immediate and lasting impact on the right people who could go on to be your biggest advocates. Make sure you have your elevator pitch polished and ready to go - in the space of a minute you should be able to explain your unique selling points, couch your experience and skills in a compelling way, and convey exactly what kind of roles and sectors you are interested in. You are pitching yourself, so be dynamic, confident and clear so that you live long in the memory of those you speak with. Traditionally, a relatively high proportion of board roles come through recommendations and, although this is changing, the power of personal connection is worth bearing in mind.
Even the most experienced professional can find it difficult to take an objective view of themselves, their career achievements and skills, and most importantly, understand how to translate these into a board level personal brand. An experienced NED or Advisor could help to mentor you through this process, drawing on their own experience of transitioning to a portfolio role to signpost where your brand building activity needs work. Mentors can provide feedback on why you might have been unsuccessful in garnering the interest of recruiting boards, right up to the application and interview stage, which rely heavily on selling your personal brand to those recruiting. Remember that elevator pitch? At board level, that is the most crucial aspect of interview and application - you are selling your qualities, your attitude and your personality as much as you’re selling your skills and experience. That shift in focus can be daunting which is where the guidance of someone who has walked the same path can be invaluable.