How to handle rejections for non-executive Board work

Everyone gets turned down for roles, executive and non-executive, even the most experienced non-executives. But every occasion where a recruitment does not go your way offers a great opportunity for you to deepen your insight and understanding of the way non-executive recruitment works, to connect with the recruiter, and to understand and further hone your own offer. It’s important to expect to find yourself in this situation from time to time, and if you do, here are some words of encouragement:

  • Always ask for feedback when you are stood down at the first stage. Try not to avoid or resist it: for the reasons set out below, feedback is rarely a painful thing, but it is important to get some if you can. If feedback isn’t offered in the email or telephone call, ring the hiring organisation or the recruiter and see whether it could be made available on request. In some cases, it may not be offered at all – especially if the field has been very large (it’s not unusual to receive hundreds of applications for some non-executive appointments) but most of the time you should be able to get some.  
  • It’s all relative. Remember that you will rarely have been turned down because of something you did badly or wrong. Where competition is intense – such as where a field is very large and there are limited interview slots available – candidates who appear to be the most relevant or ‘complete’ may be prioritised. It’s important to ask what the successful candidates had in common, and don’t give up! 
  • Remember it’s not a perfect science. Boards are complex entities, with many different aspects and requirements inherent in every role. For this reason, success often comes down to a blend in what you can offer against what the Board is looking to achieve. For example, success is unlikely to come down to one professional background, one experience, one skill, or one strength in any candidate. It may take into account useful networks and contacts you can bring, communication style, connection with certain audiences, understanding of particular subject matter, or diversity. Each time you are successful in receiving feedback, ask where your strengths were most noticed so you are aware of that for next time.     

The most powerful tool at your disposal in becoming a non-executive is your ability to select opportunities for which you are a good match, and where you have a good chance of standing out of the field for all the right reasons. But every opportunity along the way to understand how you are perceived as a candidate is invaluable. Keep going: don’t give up!