Jocelyn McConnachie’s Advice for Building Your Non-Executive or Trustee Career

Building a career as a Non-Executive (NED) has become an attractive career option for professionals looking for a fulfilling way to contribute to the success of a business, whilst also broadening their network and achieving personal and professional growth.

While some might pursue a NED career as a means of earning additional income, for most it’s an opportunity to gain invaluable board level experience, showcase their talents and express their values, regardless of whether they’re in their twenties or close to retiring. With such rewarding prospects, it’s easy to see the appeal.

However, whether it’s due to little understanding of what the role entails, lack of confidence or intense competition for roles, achieving this goal and making the transition from executive to non-executive can be easier said than done. But it’s not impossible.

At Deltra, we believe that knowledge is power. So to give those professionals who are interested in pursuing a NED career a useful head start, we recently held a webinar dedicated to demystifying the process of becoming a NED, along with the help of portfolio NED and executive coach, Jocelyn McConnachie.

With years of experience in helping individuals become NEDs, Jocelyn shared key learnings from her own career journey, as well as practical advice that our attendees could use to navigate the process.

So, if you’re interested in developing your future as a NED, keep reading to check out a summary of Jocelyn’s most valuable insights and advice from our webinar.

Championing diversity

In recent years, organisations have become eager to increase the diversity at their board tables. According to the 2022 UK Spencer Stuart Board Index, women now represent 53% of NEDs at FTSE 100 companies, with 71% of boards also having at least one director identifying as having a minority ethnic background. This shows that positive change is happening, even if it is at a steady rate.

In addition to this, boards are also starting to see the value in hiring those from more diverse backgrounds and the unique perspectives, experiences and skillsets they can contribute to organisations. This creates more opportunities for those who might not have come from a corporate career background to get their foot in the door.

Jocelyn echoed this during the webinar and shared that, through her NED coaching, she often encounters professionals who feel their experience is not relevant, which can put them off from applying at all. She said:

“I really encourage people who haven't come up through the corporate ladder to apply for a non-executive role if they have a valuable contribution to make. That's simply because they can bring some real magic to the room because of their different behaviours and so forth.

A few years ago I was coaching a Board and there was a younger man who had joined the board because he has a background in digital, social media and customer experience. He didn't have the 30 years of corporate experience of his peers, yet he was valued for his skills, plus his ability to 'break the ice' and spark new thought processes.”

Irrespective of background and experience, championing diversity needs to be present in the boardrooms of today and is something that’s consistently brought up during the NED interview process. Board members understandably want to determine a candidate’s understanding of diversity and how they intend to contribute towards diversity efforts before taking them further into the process.

Complete due diligence

In the 2003 Higgs Review, which explored the role and effectiveness of NEDs, it was recommended that before accepting a role, prospective NEDs should thoroughly examine an organisation to ensure both sides are well suited to working with one another. Despite being twenty years old, this advice regarding due diligence continues to ring true to this day and is a crucial component in NED career building.

By taking the time to do this exploratory work and research, a prospective NED can not only gain a deeper understanding of an organisation and their governance but can also identify what personal values they have and how they want them to be translated in a non-executive environment. This can significantly reduce the risk of any unwelcomed challenges or pitfalls and instead increase the likelihood of success when they enter the role.

Jocelyn expanded on this point by explaining the importance of determining an alignment between prospective NEDs and the organisations they’re interested in working with. She elaborated:

“If someone's very good at governance, it may be that they want to go for an organisation that is governance heavy, or actually they might want to go for a start-up that needs their experience in governance more. So it's interesting to think clearly, but also widely around what type of organisation might be right for you and where you can best contribute that key value for them. 

Remember, you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. So it's important to consider, do I feel confident that this is a good organisation that I can contribute to? That's absolutely key because you're not just going for a job on the board. You're embedded and listed for the organisation, so it’s very much a two-way process.”


From developing new skills to taking on new challenges and extending careers, it’s obvious why the interest in applying for NED roles has increased in recent times. However, the market continues to be relatively small and slow, making it an often-lengthy process with fierce competition for very few roles.

One of the reasons for this is that, once they are given their appointments, NEDs will typically maintain their positions for an average of 4.3 years, according to research by the Spencer Stuart Board Index. Despite the UK Corporate Governance Code enforcing a maximum of 9 years for a NED to serve, only 4% actually reach this point.

This slow turnover has proven to be a common and frustrating challenge, particularly for first time non-executives. In some cases, it can take at least a few months to find suitable roles and start the application process. While little can be done to speed up the process from the NEDs side, networking has become a simple way of staying one step ahead of the competition in this highly competitive market.

Jocelyn explained:

“Developing an elevator pitch, that’s a boiled down version of your personal statement, and telling people that you're interested in non-executive roles will help you either be put in touch with the right recruiter or directly with the right organisation who might be recruiting. This could maybe even come from the very outer reaches of your network.”

Be open to learning

Escalated by factors such as the pandemic, changes to technology and ESG challenges, the role of an NED is continuously evolving to keep pace with the mounting pressures and expectations on today’s businesses. With so much change happening all the time, there’s more pressure than ever for NEDs to have all the answers, pre-empt challenges and instil good corporate governance.

Unfortunately due to this pressure, its increasingly common for NEDs to experience a dip in confidence in the early stages of their position, particularly when involved in discussions that are beyond their specialist knowledge or skillset. An inability to contribute to debates that tackle future challenges could lead to inaction and delays that could threaten the organisation further.

Jocelyn shared that prospective NEDs should proactively plan for these instances by taking the initiative to learn from those in the know, rather than struggle in silence.

“If we're coming up to a section of the year where we're going to be doing some strategic and financial planning, make sure you've booked in to have a pre-conversation with the finance expert or, if finance isn't your bag, spend time understanding what the implications of the numbers are. 

That way, you're well prepared and able to use your voice effectively, either as an individual or as a team member on the board, even when it's not your specialist subject. Remember becoming a NED isn’t just about your individual skills and the capabilities you bring, it’s more about the chemistry and how you fit within the team.”

The journey to becoming a non-executive director might not be the most straight forward, with numerous moving parts to contend with. As more and more professionals become interested in this exciting career move, there’s little chance of this changing any time soon.

With the help of Jocelyn’s guidance, we hope that navigating the process and transitioning from executive to non-executive successfully now seems more attainable. The key is knowing your value and communicating it continuously, from the very first interview to your first board meeting and beyond.

To listen to more of Jocelyn's insights, you can tune into her podcast with our director, Richard Archer here.

If you’d be interested in attending or speaking at one of our events, head to our Networking Events page for more information.

9th May

From the Experts Industry Insight Career Advice