non-profit boards

So you want to snag a corporate board seat

June 14, 2012: 12:59 PM ET

Most companies still recruit directors the old-fashioned way -- it's all about who knows you -- but there are other ways to land a spot.

FORTUNE -- Dear Annie: I read your recent column on how to get noticed by executive recruiters, which is actually how I got my current job a few years ago, but does the same advice apply to attracting headhunters who fill board seats? I am a chief financial officer at a medium-sized private company and have served on a couple of nonprofit boards, including one for a national organization, but I haven't yet cracked the code for getting asked to join a corporate board. I understand this has traditionally been a matter of "who you know," including who your golfing buddies are. Is that still true in this day and age? Do you (or your readers) have any inside tips on how to be considered for a directorship? — Ready and Waiting

Dear R.W.: You've chosen an interesting moment to ask, since many companies claim they're having trouble finding enough board candidates who are both qualified and willing. That's partly because federal laws and regulations, including Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank, have made board membership more demanding and time-consuming than it used to be.

So this may be a good moment to go after a spot on a corporate board. In general, it does matter what kind of nonprofit board experience you have. "Anyone who wants to join a corporate board would do well to start with membership in the board of a health care or hospital system," says Ralph Ward, editor and publisher since 1997 of the newsletter Boardroom Insider. "With all the consolidation going on in health care now, those boards are dealing with huge budgets, and with complex financial and strategic issues, that are very similar to what corporate directors have to tackle."

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Since you mention that you got your current job through a headhunter, get in touch with that person. "Some recruiters do specialize in finding board members, but a better way to go is to work through an executive recruiter you already know, even if directorships are outside his or her usual area," says Ward. "A referral from someone who is already a fan of yours is much more likely to get you somewhere than 'cold calling' a recruiter who knows nothing about you." More

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