NED roles Pathways to a portfolio career

When it comes to gaining the experience and skills required to secure your first – or fifth – non-executive director role, having a broad background in executive roles and sectors can be beneficial, regardless of the area you’re hoping to secure a NED role in.

Whilst industry specific experience is often preferred, demonstrable learning, development and knowledge of the overarching requirements of a non-exec in any field stands you in good stead to build a relevant and rewarding portfolio career.

No remuneration doesn’t mean no responsibility

There are a huge number of pro-bono opportunities in the public and third sector that are a stepping stone to securing a paid non-executive director role. Voluntary roles, however, don’t come without responsibility just because they come without a salary. Both executive directors and non-executive directors have the same legal responsibility whether they are part time or full time, paid or unpaid. As well as providing your time to these organisations, you are also expected to uphold the standards of the brand, of good corporate governance and the legal responsibilities of the relevant legislation, for example the Companies Act or Charities Act.

Not all executives make good non-executives

A common misconception amongst those looking to embark upon a portfolio career is that their reputation as an executive director can be relied upon to secure non-exec roles. NED roles are often in a different sector or at a different level to executive directorships, and so cannot be directly compared. The strength of a NED is centred on an ability to stand back from a day-to-day role within an organisation in order to see the bigger picture, and to be more pragmatic about decision making within the boardroom, whereas an executive is tasked with knowing the details at a granular level. To find out more about transferring your skills and mindset from that of an executive to a NED, try our Role of the Non-Executive Director course.

Never stop learning

The old adage of ‘you learn something new every day’ is especially apt when discovering how to build a portfolio career, and more so if you seek a pro-bono role within education to gain experience. Governor positions at schools, academies, colleges and universities are an effective way to develop your career, and can cement your skills in chairing meetings or committees, working with others in voluntary roles, and other project management, with the freedom of not having employees directly reporting to you. To find out more about the IoD’s initiative with the Department for Education to get more directors on school boards.

Demonstrate your development

When translating your experiences as a governor, trustee or similar into a NED appointment, demonstrating your development within the role is key, especially if the vacancy is in a sector you’re not familiar with. Presenting what you were responsible for, what you learned, the challenges you faced and the ways you overcame them are far more attractive and applicable to a board than a previous relevant role with little growth to report.

Be mindful of time frames

A governor, academy or multi-academy trust trustee or other third-sector role should be a worthwhile career development in its own right, not just a means to an end to secure a NED role or expand your portfolio of positions. It can be easy to fall into the trap of feeling a NED role is the ‘next step’ after being on executive boards for a number of years, but if you are comfortable in the challenge of your current position, there is no need to covet a non-exec role just because your peers do. It is also important to understand the time commitments required of a NED appointment, and whether or not this fits into your career trajectory and responsibilities at present. At the same time, if you start to build towards your first non-executive role as you retire from your executive board position, you may find yourself overlooked in favour of a director who began their transition alongside their day-job. To discover what it takes to become a trustee, and how to balance this with your regular responsibilities in the boardroom.

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