Expert interview with Tracey Bleakley
Note: the article originally written in 2015 was edited by the NEDonBoard team in October 2021
Tracey Bleakley joined Hospice UK in January 2016 as CEO. Before then was CEO of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners. Her previous roles include Chief Executive of the Personal Education Group (pfeg) where she led a successful campaign for financial education to be included in the National Curriculum. She was also UK Director of the charity MEND, which tackles obesity and promotes health living, and spent 13 years in management consultancy with Price Waterhouse, Accenture and ITV. Tracey is on the board of the Gold Standards Framework and on the Lancet Commission into the Value of Death. She is also Co-Chair of the Palliative Care Leadership Collaborative.
In this interview, Tracey Bleakley offers great advice for candidates aspiring to become a non-executive director. Applying for the first non-executive role can be a minefield and requires careful proceeding.
“Unfortunately, I’ve seen a lot of people become discouraged when applying for their first non-executive role. I’ve seen so many dynamic, brilliant women who applied for board roles or public appointments and then gave up after being rejected several times. Sadly, these inspirational candidates come to feel that they’re not good enough, and in most cases that’s just not true.”
Tracey Bleakley has experienced all sides of the process, having herself been rejected for several roles, as well as been successful in obtaining several positions.
Writing a tailored application is important. Her advice to aspiring candidates is to write a letter explaining why you would like to take on the role, what skills and experience you would bring to the board, and what hopes and aspirations you have for the role.
“I highly recommend that candidates write a short section in their application letter about their personal qualities, as well as their skills and experiences. This brings critical colour to an application and allows hiring boards to get to know you better”
Candidates should not wait until they can perfectly evidence every aspect of the hiring board’s qualifying criteria, because sometimes desirable qualities may not always be denoted in the application criteria.
Candidates should always be ready to describe their additional qualities that would make them a better NED on a board.
Candidates should also always follow the rules, and if an application requires a specific number of documents at a certain proscribed length, then candidates should adhere to this.
“Some roles attract hundreds of candidates. Some, very few. The more specialised or unfashionable the role or board position is, the more likely a candidate is to succeed. Most importantly, don’t be discouraged if you don’t succeed at first. I know that sometimes it may take many applications before you make it. It’s critical to understand that a rejection isn’t always because of a personal shortcoming, so the best procedure is to always ask for feedback. Then you can improve your application every time and take advantage of every rejection as a learning opportunity, if possible.”
She adds that sometimes boards are looking for a NED with a lot of experience, while other groups are more interested in hiring a candidate with the right skills and are happy for their experience to develop on the job.
Related post: How to find your first non-exec role
Related post: How to become an effective non-executive director
For boards and organisations seeking to appoint a NED, Tracey Bleakley says that:
“It’s very important to review your board skills matrix before you start the recruiting process to hire a NED. This is so you can give the potential candidates as much information as possible in your hiring announcement. If you want to bring fresh ideas onto your board, and if you’re looking to increase diversity and maintain relevance, then I recommend against looking at the same pool of existing NEDs, as this will just limit your options.”
Finally, Tracey Bleakley also advises that boards and organisations would be very wise to hang on to any CV that isn’t right for their needs, but perhaps might be a good fit for another board. If one board recommends a qualified NED candidate to another board, the favour might be returned in the future.
If you are looking for your first non-executive director role, watch the NEDonBoard acclaimed webinar How to Secure your First NED Role. Registration link here.
If you are an organisation looking to appoint a non-executive director, NEDonBoard can support you in attracting high caliber candidates. Simply email us at [email protected].