Article written by Neil Munz-Jones

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the majority of new Non-Executive Director appointments (especially roles at non-FTSE 350 companies) are still made through existing connections rather than a formal search and selection process – despite First Flight’s best efforts and clear recommendations in all the relevant Corporate Governance Codes.  So whilst getting onto First Flight’s database is a start, networking can also be a crucial activity to help you secure a NED role.  Things may have moved on a bit from ‘the old boy network’ but if a company insists on identifying candidates informally without a proper process, and you want to be considered, you need to be ‘front of mind’, staying in touch with key people in your network, reminding them of your skills and experience and letting them know that securing a first/additional NED role is one of your career objectives.

And having an active network can help you secure a NED role in other ways too.  Even if you have great connections at the Company and come highly-recommended you will need to prepare for the interview.  Clearly the internet is a great source of public data on the company and its industry, but it is amazing how much more (confidential and up-to-date) information and insight you can get by talking to people in your network.  Taking on a NED role is a big commitment on your part (especially if you are likely to invest in the company) so doing your due diligence is essential.  Getting that sort of information is much more likely to come from networking than doing research via public information sources.   Who could you talk to that could help?  Think of past and present employees, customers, suppliers, competitors or industry experts…use tools such as LinkedIn to identify who you know.

And networking is not just about helping you secure an NED role, it is just as important to help you perform the role well.  All that great company and industry insight you acquired to help you land the role/decide it was right for you is just as valuable now.  Having an active network makes it much easier to get/stay ahead of the game (i.e. know your competition, pick up on new technologies/innovation in this era of rapid and disruptive change.)  You can’t wait to read about it in the media, it’s often too late by then.  The best networkers don’t even have to ask for these sort of insights as their network will be calling them to tell them.

One of the benefits of an NED that companies look for is access to your ‘black book’…can you make introductions to potential customers, suppliers, partners or investors?  All this is much easier to do if you have nurtured the relationships in your network.  Can you provide informal references for potential senior hires at your company?

So what are a few of the best ways to network for NED’s?

  • Focus your networking efforts on deepening existing relationships rather than making new ones.  A ‘quality over quantity’ philosophy will pay dividends.
  • Use LinkedIn to maintain your database of contacts and do research on who you know.  LinkedIn is a great tool but is better for the ‘quantity’ rather than ‘quality’ aspects of your networking.
  • For the ‘quality’ aspect you need to go and meet the people you know (think ‘catch up meetings’ over coffee or lunch, as much as going to formal networking events), if you want to develop a mutually-beneficial relationship.  It is time-consuming but there is a limit to how deep a relationship can get if it is only conducted via digital media.

For me this face-to face networking is essential to develop the depth of relationship  needed to secure and make a success of a NED role.  And remember networking is a ‘two-way’ thing, so you will need to ‘give’ as much as you ‘take’.

 Neil Munz-Jones published The Reluctant Networker in 2010and now gives inspirational talks on networking for organisations such as The FT, The National Audit Office, Barclaycard, Philips, The IOD and INSEAD as well as professional services firms.  He has appeared as a guest on BBC Radio and as a networking expert on The Guardian’s Live Q&A.  In addition to giving talks on networking Neil runs mdj2 Associates a consulting firm working with clients in the Retail and Consumer sectors.  See www.reluctantnetworker.com for more information.

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