man rejecting candidate from board role
Sep 13, 2018 Nurole logo
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Understanding rejection

It can be difficult to understand why you are being rejected from a role, but you mustn't be disheartened. There are a myriad of reasons why your application has been rejected, not least because the competition for roles is high. Read more about other factors and how to handle rejection here....

Why has my application been rejected?

In a traditional search process, you are typically filtered out of processes before you even know you are being considered. Worse still, you might never get considered! Nurole puts you in control of what you put yourself forward for and gives you access to a lot more roles than you would normally see. Not getting a role on Nurole doesn’t mean you wouldn’t have made a good board member. It might just mean that you were up against the board equivalent of racing a 100 metre sprint against Olympic champion Usain Bolt.

Is it because I didn't meet the required criteria?

While we average approximately thirty applications per role (enough to give organisations choice but not so many that we are wasting your time as a candidate or theirs as a board), organisations posting roles on Nurole are spoiled by the quality and range of applications. As one chair recently put it “I have never seen such a strong shortlist for a board role”. If you apply for a role where you don’t meet the required criteria, your chances of success are clearly going to be lower than if you are a 100% match. But they’re not going to be zero – we have seen candidates who didn’t meet all the required criteria get the role when they offered something exceptional or different.

Is it because my profile doesn't offer enough diversity?

If you do not contribute towards the aspect of diversity a board has stated it is looking to improve, your chances of success, while not zero, are likely to be considerably lower. Some members prefer not to apply for roles where the board has explicitly flagged it is seeking to improve the board's diversity on a specific dimension which they do not meet which is a choice we respect. To help members choose how to ration their time applying for roles, we encourage organisations to flag clearly if they are particularly keen to improve a certain aspect of their diversity. If it has not been flagged in the role description, it's unlikely that this was a factor in why you haven't been successful.

Is it because I didn't meet the desired or other criteria?

When candidates meet all the required criteria (and they usually do), then it comes down to the desired criteria or other criteria that emerge, typically through the cover letters, as the board realises it has the luxury of more choice of perfect candidates than they had anticipated. Of course these desired or emerging criteria then become the key differentiators. So it's important to be clear about out how comfortable you are with risk-taking and rejection. If you apply for roles where you are not a slam dunk (because you don't emphatically meet or exceed both the required and desired criteria), of course you have to accept that your success rate is likely to be lower. It also depends a lot on the nature of the role in question - listed company board roles tend to be much more competitive than not for profit trustee or Chair roles, for example. Where you sit on that spectrum is a personal choice – some members only apply for roles where they believe they are a shoe-in while others are prepared to be more speculative. It's also worth factoring in your personality and adjusting for it - more confident types naturally tend to overestimate their abilities while less confident types often underestimate them. Studies have suggested that on average men are more likely to put themselves forward for roles than women and our data supports that. If you have had feedback that you tend underestimate your abilities, push yourself out of your comfort zone when applying. If you tend to be more confident about your abilities and have sometimes been guilty of overestimating them in certain situations, check with someone else. 

How can I spend less time on applications?

We sometimes hear from people that they are frustrated about not progressing when they have invested so much time in an application. However, in our experience the best applications are not long and take on average no more than 30 minutes to complete. That's significantly less time than the average time it takes to travel to a meeting with a headhunter and at least you know the role is definitely one that interests you. The best applications are to the point, evidence-based and could only have been written by that person. So they don’t say, “I am passionate about energy or education” because anyone can say that. Instead they communicate this through their actions and experience. In short, show don't tell. If you have not yet seen our series featuring successful board role applications by Nurole candidates, it's worth reviewing carefully.

How far off was I from progressing with my application?

We tell you if you are longlisted, shortlisted or get close. If you are on the shortlist, long list or close, it’s likely a matter of time and patience before you make the break through.

Is there anything I can learn from my most recent application to improve my next one?

We are working on providing more personalised feedback to give candidates a clearer idea of which areas they fell short on, but in our experience most issues can be self diagnosed. If you have not received an "unsuitable application" warning (you will know if you have!), you know you are roughly on the right track.

The most common shortfall we see is applicants failing to cast themselves in the best possible light - writing too much, failing to give quantitative evidence of their achievements or failing to follow the instructions for the application. The other common shortfall is failing to critically self-screen - for example, if the role is specifically looking for someone with previous PLC board member experience, you are wasting your time and the board's if you have not got it (we actively discourage boards looking for previous PLC experience if it's a proxy for "someone who can do the role". So if they are seeking it, it's because they need someone with the actual experience, not a proxy for it).

If you are not guilty of either those mistakes (ask a good friend who knows you are not perfect to review your applications to double check), the chances are you just not standing out enough. While you probably meet the criteria requested and would make a good board member, there are stronger candidates out there. If that's the case, either you need to build up further experience that helps you stand out more or simply accept that you will have to persevere. It's unlikely that you have got this far without being a resilient character. While the average number of applications made by successful candidates on Nurole is 2-3, there have been cases of candidates at the extreme end who have made more than thirty applications before they got their first role.

It’s a common misconception that becoming a board member is just something that will happen naturally at a certain point in your career. However, the reality is that board director roles are highly competitive, perhaps even more so than executive roles. You are not just competing against your peers, but two generations of previous executives looking for roles who will each typically have more than one position. Moreover, board roles don’t come around that often given the length of time served, making them even more competitive.

Is there a way to get more feedback? 

If you are not getting there, it may be worth investing in professional help, which will either help you polish your approach or let you know if you are applying for the wrong roles, or simply that the right role for you hasn’t appeared yet. If you don't know where to look for that sort of help, Nurole has put together a member services page featuring a collection of people we come across who get rated highly by Nurole members they work with. While there are lots of people offering services that are a waste of money, the right advisors are worth their weight in gold and will only take you on if they think you are credible. 

What if I got rejected after an interview?

If you have not got personalised feedback following an interview, please get in touch with us and we are happy to follow up on your behalf because you should have got it. However, a surprising number of people fall at the interview stage and realise they didn’t prepare sufficiently. The most common reason for being rejected at shortlist stage is that a candidate hasn't prepared as well as the candidate who was successful. If you do get there, really prepare good questions that will show your understanding of the organisation and your qualifications to do the role. Besides researching the board and preparing for likely questions, the best candidates often really invest the time to due diligence: experience the product, be well versed in the regulatory and competitive context, as well as understand the customer, employee and broader stakeholder experience. 

If you found this article helpful, please share it on Linkedin or Twitter using the social media icons at the top of the page so others can benefit. If not, please get in touch and let us know how we can help - we ask every candidate to provide feedback at the end of every process so that we can learn and improve it for you in the future because we know that delivering brilliant customer experience is paramount to our ongoing success.

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