Board membership could serve as an important step in any executive’s career—and it’s no different for general counsel.
At the Global Women’s Leadership Summit panel, “Winning the Board Game: Making the Best Moves Toward Board Membership,” several high-profile general counsel who have also served as board members discussed the benefits board membership has on career advancement. They also offered advice on landing that seat on a board—including how to position oneself for board membership and where to launch a board career.
“Write your resume as if you’re not a lawyer,” one panelist suggested. “These board members don’t care about that class action you won, they will want to know why you’re sued.”
Play up your strengths and highlight those points of differentiation, another panelist said. A board may be looking for someone with compensation or technology skills, or an individual with experience in finance. A lawyer applying for a board position must understand the organization that board represents and clearly articulate how her skill set is a good fit.
Not surprisingly, landing a board position at a Fortune 500 public company is not easy. It takes years of experience and a strong resume to support it.
Lawyers need to start small and work their way up, the panelists agreed. Many experienced board members—such as the women on this panel—cut their board membership teeth first as volunteers on local community boards.
“Pick a board that works in an area you’re passionate about and go from there. Start with a local non-profit,” one panelist suggested. Then build on that experience to move to boards of professional and trade organizations; civic entities; national nonprofits; private company boards; and ultimately for-profit company boards.
Setting yourself up for board membership and finding the right board fit can be a lot of work for any lawyer—but, when it comes to career advancement, it’s worth the effort. All the panelists agreed: serving on boards made them better senior legal advisors and played a pivotal role in their success as executives.