How to win your first non-executive director role

winning my first non exec role

Think of finding your first non-executive director role as being a process – similar to starting out in your early career when networking was so important.

Aspiring (as well as established) non-executives should use a number of options for professional networking; nowadays, the online option is usually the easiest with in-person still being a tried and tested route. This is true, especially for those with little to no experience as networking allows you to “get a foot in the door”.

Whilst it is obvious that you do not have to meet face to face to form relationships, it is important to do so; at the very least, strive to use platforms such as Zoom and other video conferencing software.  Remember that job-hunting is only a small part of the networking you should be doing, as networking remains centered on sharing knowledge and resources that offer mutual benefits.

You should never underestimate the importance of reciprocity.

Your peers will remember others who helped them, which in turn influences their inclination to reciprocate and in the close knit world of professional services, your reputation is your passport to opportunity.

Networking to find non-executive director roles is one thing; recognizing the importance of longevity in professional relationships is another. The connections you make today can be useful in years to come and even if your non-executive roles come directly, you should always recognise the longevity of professional relationships. Because success in the non-executive and board advisory space often requires peer-2-peer assistance, , it requires you to cultivate your professional network mindfully and effectively with an eye toward the future.


There’s more to networking for these opportunities than completing job applications. 

Networking comes in three forms – operational, personal, and strategic.

Operational networking focuses on matters internal to an individual or company and  encompasses straightforward meeting of objectives. However, excessive focus on internal matters crowds out more strategic questions.

Personal networking centers on professional development opportunities. Personal networking provides access to important resources such as mentoring and coaching.

Strategic networking emphasizes positioning your efforts appropriately with key contacts, thereby shaping your future in the non-executive director arena. As an aspiring NED, you can benefit from improving strategic networking skills to position yourself as an attractive candidate.

Non-Executive Director Networking Events

Networking plays a vital role in career and personal development for NEDs.  Typical offerings include seminars, mentoring fairs, open roundtable forums and lectures, featuring experts to field questions, leadership summits, and social mixer events.

Remember that exchanging business cards is only one aspect of networking; equally important activities at networking events for aspiring NEDs include introducing new acquaintances to business contacts and asking well-informed questions. Networking should not only be limited to formal events. Aspiring NEDs can develop their professional networks just as effectively through volunteer work and community service events.

Elevator Pitches

We all know what an “elevator pitch” is, haven’t we?  It’s a concise, clear message about you, what you do, your goals, and how you might bring value to an employer.

Prepare a short speech of about 80-90 words that you can memorize and keep handy for brief interactions, such as job fairs or an impromptu chat during an elevator ride. Aspiring non-executives should include a “hook” to inspire questions, and something unique that provides a way to stand out from the competition.

However, it is important that your elevator pitch does not sound like a sales pitch. An elevator pitch should last no longer than 30 seconds.

Social Networking Sites for aspiring NEDs

Of course, LinkedIn remains useful for all kinds of professionals but it is important that aspiring NEDs take time to explore other options for online networking and job searches.

Board.Ai is an algorithmic board matching service which operates a weekly invite programme. Tell it you sector, area of expertise and location and it will match you with highly relevant companies and contacts, each week.

Likewise, is the largest peer-2-peer networking community for non-executives.


Networking involves learned skills.

Early stage nervousness around networking often dissipates and noticeable improvement comes with time and experience. As you gain experience in professional networking situations, you will acquire a better sense of the do’s and don’ts of making mutually beneficial connections.

Quality Over Quantity:  Focus on making fewer connections of a higher caliber rather than handing out a quota of business cards. Building relationships with a limited number of key professional contacts will pay off in better leads and future opportunities.

Listening Skills: Strengthening connections requires listening. Good networking means increasing the chances they remember you in a positive light.

Prepare Questions: When attending networking events (online or offline), research the speakers and attendees (if known) beforehand. Non-Executives and Board Advisors should know how to formulate targeted, well-researched questions in business and networking contexts.

Networking Event “Do’s” for Non-Executives

What outcomes do you hope to achieve? Ambitious NEDs benefit from setting clear, achievable goals for portfolio success, and networking offers opportunities to practice goal-setting.  What do you wish to achieve from each event – a personalised introduction to a client or simply to speak to a minimum of 5 high value contacts.

Dress Appropriately: Professional dress inspires trust, and the board advisory profession depends on trust. Dressing appropriately also conveys confidence, approachability, and positivity.

One of the most important lessons to learn as an aspiring non-executive or portfolio career specialist is to follow up on connections: Cultivate the uncommon but essential skill of making time to follow up with a prospect, and do so within 72 hours.

Finally, remember to “pay it forward”.  On so many occasions, there will be opportunities to help another professional or non-executive.  In many ways, this is the best route to non-executive director success; people buy from people and if everyone is willing to spend a little time to help out when there is no obvious financial gain, then between ourselves we create an eco-system of giving. 

Remember that to give, someone has to receive. The receiver may just be you!


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