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Why You Need a Personal Board of Directors

A group of people in a huddle.

In this wild world of professional development, cover letters, advanced degrees, and interviews, it would be pretty nice to have your own little team of trusted experts ready to be your career sounding board when you need it, right? If this sounds good to you, then we'd suggest you consider organizing your own personal board of directors.

As a social-impact professional, it can be incredibly valuable to always have three to five professionals in your corner, available to provide objective and actionable advice on a range of career-related topics. This team should be able to offer insight and strategic guidance, and serve as a sounding board for the big, small, and mundane issues that are a part of your everyday working life. As your career evolves and your professional goals change, so should your board.

Here are some tips on how to assemble the best squad imaginable.

Go wide

Still in contact with a professor from college or graduate school? Was there a supervisor at your last internship or a colleague at a previous job who took you under their wing? Recruit them!

Unlike an actual board of directors, there’s no formal time commitment or membership process. What matters here is developing and maintaining a relationship and open line of communication with the handful of people you’ve identified. The best part is, they don’t even need to know they’re a part of your board.

Bringing together a diverse group of professionals from across issue areas is key. Be sure to cultivate a board with a wide range of expertise, even if they’re not fully in sync with where you think you may want to go. For example, it can’t hurt to have someone who works in talent acquisition on your board even if you're not interested in HR. They’ll provide invaluable insight into the hiring process and may even help you negotiate your next raise.

Go deep

Once you’ve identified a good cross-section of potential board members, be sure to consider the experiential knowledge they’ve gained along the way. While you might not be privy to all of their highs and lows, having a monochromatic board can limit what they’ll each be able to offer. Much like a nonprofit board, you'll benefit from the perspective of someone who has weathered a storm or two.

To wit, we learn as much from our successes as we do from our failures. Know someone who has been laid off or had to leave a job on not-so-great terms? Add them to your list, too. It’s useful to have people who have proactively secured a promotion or a raise, but it is equally important to have a bench that can help you navigate the challenging times as well.

  • If you’re early in your career, mix it up! Don’t just lean on people who are mid-to late career professionals. Know someone who has just a few more years under their belt than you? Consider them too. Having someone to talk to who has recently been in your shoes can help validate a lot of your experiences.
  • If you’re thinking about graduate school, don’t limit yourself to individuals who got their advanced degree; identify folks who didn’t as well, or those who pursued a nontraditional degree. Their perspective and rationale are equally valid.
  • If you’re at a loss as to what comes next, curate a mix of big picture and strategic thinkers. The big picture board members will help you articulate a vision and the strategy folks will help you carve a clear path.

Now, engage

You’ve carefully developed a shortlist for a board of professionals who have a balanced blend of expertise, experiential knowledge, and diversity in perspective. Now comes the easy part, board management.

Like with any board, make sure they don’t only hear from you when you need something and be sure to schedule a quarterly or biannual coffee just to catch up. If they do provide counsel, consider using one of our templates to thank them.

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About the Author | Sarah Goff has nearly fifteen years of experience working in NYC’s public sector in what can only be described as an elegantly haphazard career path. She geeks out on politics and social policy and is deeply passionate about the the social sector. She has participated in numerous public sector fellowship programs and has her M.S. in Public Policy from The New School.

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