Early on in her CIO career, Jean Holley knew she wanted a seat on the other side of the boardroom table. \n\nThat was 16 years ago, when few companies fretted much about the obvious lack of women or people of color on their boards. Anyone who did draw attention to those bastions of white, 60-something retired CEOs and CFOs likely would be told of the unfortunate \u201clack of qualified candidates in the pipeline.\u201d\n\n\u201cThat pipeline argument is such baloney!\u201d scoffs Holley, who serves on three public boards today and has made board diversity the centerpiece of her mission and purpose. \u201cYou just have to know where to look.\u201d\n\nAnd she does a lot of looking. As the chair of nomination, governance, and compensation committees for all three of her boards\u2014security provider OneSpan, equipment rental company Herc Holdings, and Accord Financial Corp.\u2014Holley has interviewed dozens of potential board directors. \u201cAt about 15 minutes in, I know if this person is a fit or not,\u201d she says. \u201cAnd I will give instant feedback if I don\u2019t think this will be a great match. I don\u2019t mess around!\u201d\n\nShe also consults with other boards on diversity searches and has volunteered with board readiness training programs for a number of national organizations and Atlanta\u2019s Women in Technology organization.\n\nTouching base with this high-energy CIO-turned-board member recently, we talked about how CIOs can avoid rookie mistakes while seeking their first board seat and what the legendary Grace Hopper taught her about embracing her own power to inspire other women. \n\nMaryfran Johnson: You\u2019ve coached many women technology leaders on how to clearly express the value they bring as board candidates. How do you pitch the Jean Holley brand?\n\nJean Holley: I\u2019m a corporate board director, and I love helping companies find and unlock value. I help to optimize corporate strategies and operationalize those plans. That includes finding and aligning the right talent with the right incentives. \n\nI\u2019m really good at looking around the corner and seeing what others don\u2019t see. As a former CIO, I\u2019m an expert in material weaknesses and in finding and fixing sub-optimal business processes. Lately I\u2019ve developed a new one in ESG (environmental, social, and governance), since I\u2019ve served on a number of board committees concerned with those issues. \n\nWhat are the mistakes you see CIOs making as they start pursuing that first public board seat?\n\nThe No. 1 mistake I see is saying \u2018I want a board seat\u2019 without having any clear idea about what industry or company size they\u2019re looking for. That\u2019s like saying \u2018I want a CIO job\u2019 without any specifics or knowing where you can add value. The next mistake is failing to realize that your board resume and bio are very different from an executive resume. A board CV isn\u2019t a chronological list of your roles and responsibilities; you\u2019re dealing with a completely different audience in the boardroom. If that understanding isn\u2019t reflected in your vocabulary as you\u2019re interviewing, you\u2019ll be filtered out of the running. You have to be able to articulate the value you bring to this different table. This is a real job with real pay. The third most common mistake I see is failing to ask for a job description of the open board seat. Would you interview for a CIO job without understanding what they\u2019re looking for? \n\nLooking at your career strategically, what was the best decision you've made?\n\nIt was joining my first board, 16 years ago, when I was still an active fulltime CIO. I had turned down a big Fortune 3 company to take the CIO role with Tellabs in Chicago instead. When I interviewed with Tellabs, I shared that I wanted to be on a public board to ensure they were supportive of that plan. It was the best decision I ever made because serving on the board of a public company made me a better CIO. It helped me understand the board lingo and how to communicate much more effectively with my own company board and peers.\n\nWhat do you wish you knew or understood earlier in your career? \n\nI should have started helping to build the pipeline for diverse board candidates sooner. Today it\u2019s my passion and part of my brand. I saw the need for helping boards find these candidates, but I was so busy, I didn\u2019t make the time to help build that pipeline. I networked, of course, but I didn\u2019t network with the purpose of diversifying boards. I know I could have been more influential in moving this along. \n\nI remember talking about this (mentorship issue) with Grace Hopper, who was such an icon for women in engineering and computing in the \u201880s. I had the opportunity to know her after she retired from the Navy and was working with the government systems group at Digital Equipment Corp. Grace was humble, wicked smart, and enjoyed quietly sharing her knowledge and experiences. One of the things she told me was that she knew she was blazing a new path for women engineers, but she wished she\u2019d made that (awareness) more visible sooner in her career. This is something that has stuck with me.\n\nHanging out with an industry legend like Grace Hopper must have been amazing. Do you have a favorite Grace story? \n\nI was based in Chicago and there were numerous times I was her escort, introducing her to our technical DEC customers. I recall driving around, stuck in traffic with Grace, and we could have cared less as we were in deep discussions on how to mathematically model certain problems for analysis. One time we were on one of DEC's helicopters together flying from Boston (Logan) to Merrimack, N.H. The gate attendant wanted us to take extra boxes with us but we knew we were maxed out on weight. Who would know this better than two geeky engineers!? She and I looked at each other and instantly said "No, you don't overload a helicopter." We laughed about it as we recognized we were both a "different breed" of women. The gate attendant didn't see that coming, for sure!\n\nThis article originally appeared in CIO\u2019s Career Strategist newsletter. Subscribe today!