Landing a seat on a public or private corporate board ranks high for most senior executives. Yet few companies advertise board of director opportunities. That makes networking a crucial component of a board search. It’s one of the reasons LinkedIn has evolved into an essential tool for board candidates.
We asked three experts to weigh in on the dos, don’ts and “must-haves” for great board-ready LinkedIn presence:
- Patti O’Leary, Board Readiness Practice Lead at Navigate Forward
- Richard Dodson, LinkedIn Practice Lead at Navigate Forward
- Jim Zuehlke, Founder and Principal at Cardinal Board Services
Know What Public and Private Boards Value
A strong LinkedIn presence for board candidates starts by understanding—and showcasing—what boards value. According to O’Leary, this means repositioning your experience from hands-on management to oversight and thought leadership. It’s all about inspiring and guiding others, keeping up on industry trends, and being diligent and resourceful.
Zuehlke, whose firm recruits dozens of board members each year for mid-size companies, likens the ideal executive candidate to a Swiss army knife with its variety of multi-purpose tools. Board members need strong fiscal accountability, their own domain expertise, as well as a handful of other skills. Boards also look for diversity of experience, geography, age, race and gender in potential directors.
O’Leary explains that another important factor on public or private company boards are directors who can express their opinions clearly, yet maintain collegial relationships. This can mean a transition in leadership and communication style for executives.
Your LinkedIn profile is the ideal place to demonstrate these and other abilities.
Make a Great First Impression
Too often, senior leaders discount the impact of LinkedIn. One of the most common myths is that the online professional network isn’t necessary for C-suite and other executive roles.
Zuehlke reassures all executives that LinkedIn is no longer optional.
- Executive search firms rely on LinkedIn to identify and qualify potential candidates.
- Current board members review profiles and look for common connections as they assess potential directors.
- Senior leaders and industry colleagues check out your profile and activity to vet networking requests and support their peers.
In short, LinkedIn is typically a board candidate’s first impression in the market.
Dodson, who teaches “LinkedIn Mastery for Executives” at Navigate Forward, recommends board candidates develop a robust profile and cultivate a daily LinkedIn practice. The profile serves as an overview of executive experience, and the daily practice ensures an active professional network. Memorability is the goal of both.
Build a Board-Ready LinkedIn Profile
All three experts agree that a board candidate’s LinkedIn profile must include these essential elements:
- Professional photo
- Headline that includes the keyword “board”
- A focused and concise summary of experience
- Current and previous board experience, including non-profit and volunteer work
- Examples of thought leadership and governance
Because LinkedIn does not offer a specific field for board work, Dodson suggests listing any current or past board roles chronologically within the Experience section. Executives can also include non-profit board work in the Volunteer section.
As boards recruit younger and more diverse candidates, it’s more common for actively employed executives to serve on boards. That means a single LinkedIn profile must serve multiple audiences, from potential boards and search firms to current employees, customers and peers. In those cases, Dodson suggests content that balances both aspirations. Adding awards, speaking engagements, bylined articles and media mentions can illustrate great board credentials.
Zuehlke appreciates board candidates who give their past work experience more than a passing glance. While it does not need the thoroughness of a resume, executives should include more than just employer names and dates. He suggests 1-2 bullets of detail for each position, with content focused on the desired type of board experience.
He also cautions against industry jargon, noting most boards intentionally hire directors from outside their sector and appreciate the cross-pollination of ideas. But, the board first must understand how a leader’s experience will translate from one field to another. Taking the time to translate your accomplishments to more accessible language will pay off quickly.
Stay Active With Your Network
A board-ready LinkedIn profile is just part of the process. Staying active and visible with your professional network keeps you top of mind with peers, industry colleagues and search professionals.
It’s also a great way to demonstrate your expertise and thought leadership, Dodson says. Sharing topical articles, making insightful comments on others’ posts and even crafting your own content all help showcase your point-of-view.
Dodson encourages board candidates to cultivate helpful connections, including current board members, company leaders, industry influencers and search professionals. These individuals can not only support a board search, but also serve as helpful and trusted resources once you land a board role.
Are you board ready? Review the requirements in our article, “Five Essentials to Land Your First Corporate Board Seat.” Navigate Forward’s Board Readiness service helps senior leaders succeed as public and private company directors.