ICAEW.com works better with JavaScript enabled.

Securing an NED role may be harder than you think

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 27 Jan 2022

The non-executive director’s role has changed considerably in recent years. Boards are seeking people with exactly the right expertise.

Non-executive director (NED) roles are no longer for senior partners or CFOs looking for something to do in their retirement. The market is much more competitive, and the competition is more diverse. More women and diverse groups of people are going for NED roles, and more critically, so are younger people.

If you are going to land an NED role, you will need expertise, experience and a strong network. Without any one of those things, you are going to struggle, says Heather White, the Founder and CEO of Boardroom Ready, who will be speaking at an ICAEW webinar on 1 February.

She tells a story about a senior partner at a Big Four firm who, when he left the firm, was offered a number of non-executive opportunities. But his colleagues leaving similar roles struggled to get any offers. The difference was that the senior partner had significant industry experience and the right network to go along with it.

“It’s going to take most people with the relevant experience 12 to 18 months to get a role, and that's assuming that they’re pretty active,” says White. Most companies do prefer people with board experience. For those roles that are open to someone without the board, competition can get quite intense. White will explain in the webinar the other factors that play out in the time frame.

“Because of the level of competition, having 80% of what a job spec asks for won’t do for many NED roles,” says White. “It’s got to be more like 95%, as the market is so competitive. You’ve really got to align your expertise and experience with the jobs you’re going for.”

More than anything, it pays to have a strong network, White explains. A lot of NED roles are not advertised on job boards, especially for the SME market. A strong network of senior leaders and board members in the industries you are interested in is a must. “It really comes down to: are you known?”

You should ask yourself several questions when planning to take on an NED role: how actively are you going to look? How connected are you? What is the frequency of vacancies for the ideal job for you? “You’ve got a number of factors that are going to influence how easy it’s going to be to find the right job. Now, the right job could pop up just at the right moment, but it quite often won’t,” says White. 

“If you’re one of those people with virtually no board experience, although it’s natural for you to go on to join a board, you’ve got all of those other factors to line themselves up.”

It is worth trying to get some kind of board experience in the years building up to your move into an NED role, says White. Trade association committees, boards of governors or trustees, or charity committees, can all provide relevant experience. “Think about where you can go to get that experience. Being a trustee is still looked upon in a positive way.”

Think about the specific experience and knowledge you can offer a board. Think about tangible examples: do you have merger and acquisition experience, for example? Or corporate finance? That will be attractive for boards looking for that knowledge. “But they don’t want you to just be a one-trick pony, they really like to see well-rounded experience. That’s why being on other boards and taking on other responsibilities shows that you’re more than just a ‘financial person’.”

White offers 10 pieces of advice for those looking to take on NED roles:

  1. Start planning early
  2. Networking matters
  3. Tell everyone you are looking
  4. Gain external experience
  5. Seek a mentor or sponsor
  6. Update your CV/LinkedIn
  7. Build your knowledge
  8. Think more broadly – beyond your functional expertise
  9. Modify your language – learn from other board members
  10. Seek out roles

Recommended content

A megaphone
Stay up to date

You can receive email update from ICAEW insights either daily, weekly or monthly, subscribe to whichever works for you.

Sign up
Daily summaries
Three yellow pins planted into a surface in a row
News in brief

Read ICAEW's daily summary of accountancy news from across the mainstream media and broader financing sector.

See more