Get on Board

Looking to expand your network and use your experience in a different way? Consider joining a corporate board.


After spending nearly three decades working in law, Julie Jai decided it was time she did something for her community. Last June, the still-practicing lawyer came across a posting for a board position at Toronto’s St. Joseph’s Health Centre and immediately applied. It was an unpaid directorship, but the lack of pay didn’t stop her. “It seemed like the perfect way to give back,” she says.

It’s been almost a year and she’s not only learned a lot about how hospitals operate, but she’s made many invaluable connections too. “It’s been helpful on many levels,” says Jai. “I’ve developed professional relationships as well as personal friendships.”

Boards let people use their career experiences in new ways, learn about unfamiliar industries and meet new people.

People who are looking for a different type of professional experience should consider doing what Jai has done. Boards let people use their career experiences in new ways, learn about unfamiliar industries and meet new people.

It’s also not as hard to join a board as one might think. Charitable organizations, private companies and large public corporations are always looking for members, says Richard Leblanc, a York University law professor and corporate governance advisor. Still, you do have to get on an organization’s radar, he says.

Developing a track record of effective­ness is one way to get people’s attention. If you want to join a corporate board, you’ll need prior experience too. “When recruiting a person, they might call the directors of boards that a person’s been on and ask about working style, preparation for meetings, integrity, leadership and their ability to work with others,” says Leblanc.

Typically, you’ll be on the board for a minimum two years, but try and stay longer – Leblanc says that board members are usually most effective in years three, four and five. You’ll also have to put in between five and 15 hours of work per week. Some companies do offer financial compensation, but more community-focused boards do not.

The biggest challenge of board life is to stay focused for several years, but there is an easy way to solve that problem. “Join a board that has a subject matter that really interests you,” says Jai. “You want to stay motivated.”

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