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Spending the pandemic alone time pondering your career trajectory? Join a board

Joining a board can enhance one’s career without changing jobs, writes Fernando Garcia

Fernando Garcia

The COVID-19 pandemic and the requirement to socially isolate have been difficult; but this time spent more alone may also provide us with an opportunity to step back, reflect on where our careers are, and set objectives for what we hope to achieve in the next five to 10 years.

For some, this may mean looking at making changes to the status quo. However – and even though this may sound trite -- change also brings with it risk.

A change in one’s career may mean a new office location, a new industry, new clients, and new peers. As exciting and refreshing as change can be, it also brings anxiety and a fear of the unknown: that the grass may not be greener on the other side. And, in times like these new opportunities may be more limited.

Fortunately, one does not necessarily need to change one’s job in order to benefit one’s career. There are often opportunities that a lawyer can pursue on the side that compliment their skill sets and may also fulfill other personal career objectives.

Over the years a lawyer will develop valuable skills and experiences not only in the subject matter of his or her practice, but also relating to risk and project management, dealing with regulators, providing legal advice to clients and corporate departments, balancing shareholder and client rights, as well as financial skills and corporate-governance experience. So what can a lawyer do if they want to regain that feeling of being involved in the running of an organization or enhance his/her skills sets and experiences beyond those offered by their day to day career?

My advice would be to look at joining a board of directors.

It is important to establish what you are hoping to accomplish before you begin the search process for a board to join. One critical consideration is the kind of organization you want to be a part of governing: corporate, not-for-profit or public. Each board will bring different challenges, requirements and expectations. Some directorships are paid, others are not. The time commitments will also vary greatly between one board and another depending on whether the organization expects its directors to join committees, and whether it is established or a start-up.

Established boards of directors will provide you with the ability to learn as you go and to gradually grow into the new role. They will also provide new members with guidance and support from existing longer-term directors. Others may prefer to join newer boards in order to build something from scratch and to have greater influence over the direction of the board and organization.

There are also two important risk management factors to keep in mind. First, a not-for-profit or community board may help one contribute to a community or a cause that one feels strongly about; however, it is important to confirm that the board will provide adequate insurance coverage while you are performing your duties as a board member. Without adequate coverage, you may find yourself personally liable for the decisions made or actions undertaken by the board, especially if contractual commitments are made or monies are paid.

Finally, keep in mind that some boards will expect their members to engage in fundraising or require personal financial contributions to the organization. Unless you are comfortable approaching friends, family and colleagues for donations, or you can dig into your own pockets, you may want to think twice before joining such a board.

Once you have an idea of what you are looking for, the next challenge is to find a board placement. Here are some tips:

  • Most opportunities are never listed or posted; rather, one must rely on personal and professional networks. Make your colleagues and others aware that you are looking. Changing your status on LinkedIn to “open for a board opportunity” may be a good start.
  • Head-hunters are often involved in recruiting for board members, especially when specific experience, such as in law, finance or cybersecurity, and previous board experience is required. Reach out to head-hunters and let them know you are available and looking.
  • Non-profit organizations such as onBoard Canada are mandated to seek board members who come from diverse backgrounds, including visible minorities and Indigenous people, women, and people with disabilities. If this applies to you, take advantage of their assistance.
  • Government websites publish public-sector board and advisory council opportunities, including the Government of Ontario’s vacant positions listing.

So, while you contemplate your career path, I recommend you consider joining a board of directors for the reasons I’ve noted. You may also find that, following retirement, joining one or even multiple boards may supplement your income, stay connected with colleagues and keep your skills fresh.

There is no better time to start looking than now!

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