Beyond being able to specifically define your board aspirations and the organisations you want and can be appointed to (your first step) you must be able to articulate your offering to those target organisations and organisations just like them if you want a board appointment. Whilst this may seem obvious it is one of the greatest challenges I see potential board members struggle with.
Having written close to 3,000 board profiles for my clients and reviewed over 10,000 board CVs I think I have some insight into what works, what doesn’t and what a powerful pitch looks like. Beyond this, I think the process of writing your pitch can be enormously valuable in its own right. Valuable because it helps you crystalise your offer and allows the opportunity to then think about which organisations will likely resonate with that offering.
An effective board profile can make the difference between being appointed or not even seen for an interview. So, the question is not should you write a board profile but rather, how do you write a powerful one.
Writing your Board Profile
To effectively write your profile, it is critical that you first understand what it is that boards want and what you have to offer. Above all, you must be able to articulate what you have to offer.
Whilst, there is no such thing as a static board profile (a powerful board profile will adjust depending on who the reader is and what their organisation they are representing) your profile must address the five (5) core elements a Chair/decision-maker wants to see in a successful candidate (Prior Governance Experience, Your Executive Skills, Your Networks and Connections, Demonstrable Passion and Cultural Fit). There are also a couple of other elements to consider as well – Industry Experience, Governance Qualifications and Diversity. The totality of these elements addresses the motivations of a chair. Being able to articulate these both formally and informally is your board pitch. The reason you should be appointed to a board.
Four Key Statements
The 1st Sentence
I strongly recommend that you start your written profile telling people that you have done the role you are seeking before. This is easy to do if you have already have a board appointment. If you haven’t then you need to get creative, perhaps leveraging your Committee, Governance or board ‘level’ experience.
Having started strongly, you should then continue your introductory sentence with the amount of experience you have in this space. If you have been a non-executive director for 5 years, then you should state it. If you have been both a NED and CEO (reporting into boards) for 10 years, then you should state that.
Following this, but within the same sentence, you should also list your past executive titles such as CEO, Director, Accountant, Lawyer, HR Director or the like. Only use your title, not a description of what you do. This element is about providing comfort that you have the skills required at board level.
The reason for starting your profile this way is that you will, outrightly, tell the Chair or the decision-makers that you can do the job and have done it before. In my role as a board recruiter, finding someone who had previous experience in the role I was looking for, was the very first thing I looked for (and was told to look for by my client) when assessing applications. Those who did not state clearly that they had done the role before, I immediately shuffled to the bottom of the pack. This will be the same for busy Chairs who are searching through a mountain of applications.
The 2nd Sentence
Following a strong opening statement, you need to support it with some detail of your board experience. Here you must convince people that you are not an aspiring non-executive but rather a successful board-level professional. As such, you need to provide some detail of your value at board level. The best way to do this is to provides some examples of success. By way of guidance think about your successes in 3 ways. 1. What was the reason you were appointed and have you fulfilled that appointment? 2. What reasons would you give the Chair for you getting a ‘pay rise’. 3. Link your success to the success of the business whilst you were a director. You might say something like… At board level highlights include… or… At board level what I do is…
Keep in mind that this is an exercise in succinct writing so you cannot include everything. Just include your greatest successes or the things you are most proud of – a few highlights should suffice.
Plenty will be able to state that they have sat on boards before but many won’t be able to state/ or omit the value that they brought to those boards. Sitting on a board for 10 years does not make you a good NED. So, the point of this element is to separate you from others.
If you find this element difficult you are in good company. Many find this the most difficult part of their board profile to pen. They are afraid to reference their own success at board level as they consider themselves part of a group of decision-makers. This is indeed true, nevertheless, each director makes their own contribution so you need to be clear about yours.
The 3rd Sentence
This section should be easier to do than the previous section as most of it should already be in your executive CV – it is a summary of your executive experience. Make it readable so focus on the highest-profile roles you have held the highest-profile organisations you have worked for first. Not everything you have ever done needs to be included here, as it will be in the body of your CV. So, for example, if you are currently a Consultant but were previously a CEO or Director then lead with information about these positions – the ones most relevant to the role you want to be appointed to.
The 4th Sentence
Boards want intelligent and educated people so you should demonstrate this. If you have an MBA, include it here. If you have a degree, include it here. Likewise, if you have completed some other form of governance training, include it here. So, this content will form the final part of your board profile and is a summary of your educational qualifications and also any particular extra-professional successes you have.
The importance of a governance qualification shouldn’t be so if you have one, this is the place to show it off – in addition to your other qualifications and memberships. These will all influence your application/consideration for a board role.
You should also list the names of the industry or governance bodies you are a member of as they can demonstrate intent and commitment to governance.
Beyond providing clarity in your own mind, your board profile will also form the basis of your Board/NED CV, your cover letter, LinkedIn profile and be the ‘golden thread’ that links your entire board application together. It also preps you for those informal ‘watercooler’ moments when you bump into a Chair that you want to impress. As such it is probably the most important piece of writing you will do during your board application journey.
These Board CV writing guidelines can help you write your own. However, to give yourself the best chance to dare them not to appoint you, let me create a bespoke Board CV for you that addresses the five things Chairs look for in every prospective board candidate. To make use of my Board CV Writing service, click the button below:
About the Author
David Schwarz is CEO & Founder of Board Appointments – The UK’s leading board advertising and non-executive career support firm. He has over a decade of experience of putting people on boards as an international headhunter and a non-executive recruiter and has interviewed over one thousand non-executives and placed hundreds into some of the most significant public, private and NFP roles in the world