bckr | Changing direction? Let people know you’re there – Sally Springbett
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Changing direction? Let people know you’re there – Sally Springbett

Changing direction? Let people know you’re there – Sally Springbett

At this week’s breakfast event, we were delighted to welcome Sally Springbett from Sapphire Partners, who gave us the benefit of her many years of executive search experience.


According to Sally, the biggest step you can take in becoming a NED or when considering a change in direction, is to let people know you’re there.  Lawyers can be gods in the legal world but not known outside.  Changing can be scary and Sally often sees fear in people’s eyes when they are contemplating it, often at a later stage in life.  ‘Retirement’ has such negative connotations that Sally has stripped it out of her vocabulary.  Think more about changing horizons, reinvention. Think more creatively.


But first think whether you really want to be a non-executive.  There is a whole range of opportunities for reinvention without the need to take on non-exec roles, so remember to explore them. Remember how lucky you are to be financially unconstrained and so able to fully explore options.


Consider how much time you want to give to family, friends and hobbies.  How do you want to readdress that balance, if at all? Don’t rush.  It’s ok not to have a company name under your own name for a while.


Check you’re allowed to do a non-exec role alongside your other commitments – get the right sponsorships.


Next start the process of evaluating what it is about you that a board will want.  Why will a chairman want you.  Probably not your 30 years as a seasoned lawyer.  It’s your raw ingredients.  Board roles are getting more and more specific.  Emotional intelligence is a key attribute.  Don’t be rude and dismissive or arrogant.  Remember that law firms can tolerate behaviours that are not acceptable outside the firms.  Remember the receptionist can have a view.  Manners matter.


The non-exec world is very competitive, so you need to identify your own USP.  How am I different? What can I bring? Bear your soul.  Do it with someone who can help deconstruct you.  Only then can you write your CV.  The legal CV is different from a non-exec CV.


‘Board experience’ can be a bit creative on the CV – school PTA, law firm committees, internal boards, charities, PCC etc. can all be used to evidence ‘board experience’.


It’s about differentiation.  Your CV goes ahead of you to meetings.  Accordingly, an impression will be created before you are actually met.  An unusual journey, living abroad or interesting hobbies will mark you out ahead of time.  It is sad to say, but it is generally men of a certain age making the decision – there are hobbies that many of them will have.  If you hunt, shoot, support Man U etc. put it on the CV.


Too often a CV is a slightly grubby document of under achievement.  Make it reflect your key achievements and add colour.  Don’t add a complete deal list at the back, perhaps pick a few that stand out as key achievements.  A CV takes a lot of time and soul searching.  It needs to be loud and proud.  Don’t do it when you are in a bad place.  Head hunters can read between the lines.


The pain you go through to get a good CV is part of what’s needed to work out what you can offer.  Next add much of it to LinkedIn.  This provides free marketing of yourself.  It is a powerful tool and helps you be known.  This is important.  LinkedIn can provide a constant stream of information to your network.  Get your most connected friends on LinkedIn to ‘like’ a post or even comment on it and this will add dramatically to the audience.


BoardEx – online database of trustees, directors and major law firm partners based on publicly available information. Once you’re on it you can own it.  It is searchable by the head hunters but because it’s by subscription you can’t necessarily see it.  However, you can contact BoardEx, send your CV and ask to be put on it if you are not already there.  Ask BCKR if you want to see a copy of your BoardEx entry.


Make sure you prepare your elevator pitch.  If you are going forward in a role or to meet head hunters, you need a snappy, impactful, genuine pitch for yourself.  You have to believe you can do it.  If you don’t believe you can do it, then you won’t get the job.  Chairmen will only be convinced if you are.


How do you figure out what you want and where you want to work? Start by printing off the list of FTSE 350 and AIM companies and cross out those which instinctively you don’t want, and highlight what you do want.  It will just be give you a feel for the type of industries that are out there. Identify people you know in those companies.  Over a period of months, you should accumulate of list of people to target for your network.  Get two further introductions from every encounter with any board level connection you have.  Don’t waste the opportunities you are offered to meet senior people by being vague.  And tell people you’re looking for a non-exec role.  Be strategic.


You need something to say to the head hunters to help your journey, so they need hooks to hang you on.


Network – strategic networking is not taking inappropriate advantage of your network, it’s just others helping you.  Some struggle in asking for help for themselves.  You are worthy.  If you are in discussion with these people you are worthy of their help.  Think whether you can cultivate sponsors.


Network with younger people and embrace technology.


Headhunters are worth cultivating.  Get an introduction.  In the search, it is the research head in the board practice who will be most useful. In her searches, Sally tries to get a shortlist with those she knows well, those she’s met once or twice, and those that are completely new.


It is important to cultivate your network outside your world. Go to events where you meet new people.  Work out good from bad.  Every opportunity is a chance to talk about yourself and meet others but often you need to pull on your brave boots.  Your career is interesting enough for others to want to talk to you, even if you didn’t know it.  Start running something to find your way into a niche.  Find former lawyers who are now NEDs, ask them how they did it. They will want to help as they were in your shoes.  Remember, first impressions matter.  The relaxed smiling person leaves an impression.  Mirroring, handshake, eye contact – all matter.  Make yourself special.


Practice and prepare before you interview.  Get people to listen to you and help work out what you need to say.  Directive help is very useful.  Make sure you can articulate why you are interested in the organisation you are interviewing for.  Do you understand their strategy, agree with their corporate culture and values?  Identify areas where you can contribute to the organisation.  Make sure you read the company website!


People will be drawn to the energetic, enthusiastic person over the dull or arrogant person.