Before you begin your board search or write your NED CV, it is important that you can articulate a compelling board pitch and profile. It is one of the greatest challenges I see potential board members struggle with. An effective board profile can make the difference between being appointed or not even selected for a board interview. So, the question is not should you write a board profile, but rather, how do you write a powerful one. Above all, you must be able to articulate what you bring to the table.
Whilst there is no such thing as a static board profile (your board profile will adjust depending on who the reader is and what 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 a Chair’s motivations. Being able to articulate these both formally and informally, is your board pitch – the reason you should be appointed to a board.
Key sentences to include in your Board Profile
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 had a board appointment. If you haven’t, then you need to get creative, perhaps leveraging your Committee, Governance or board-level experience.
Having started this strongly, you should then continue your introductory sentence with the amount of experience you have in this space. 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 did. This element is about providing comfort that you have the skills required at board level.
It is important to be clear about your board-level experience (executive or non-executive) so that others can grasp it easily and ‘peg’ you accordingly. For this reason, being able to demonstrate some form of governance experience (board or committee) is really valuable when writing your profile. Ideally, you want to begin this sentence with “I am a Non-Executive (or equivalent board-level title that you have).”
The 2nd/3rd Sentences
Following a strong opening statement, you need to support it with some detail of your board experience and value at board level. Here you must convince people that you are not an aspiring non-executive but rather a successful board-level professional.
In order to address this aspect of your profile, you should understand quite specifically how your primary skills or experience will contribute at board level. Being unclear about this is a killer. When writing this section of your profile, ensure that you make no assumptions that the reader understands what you do. Be clear about what you have to offer the board and articulate it succinctly – don’t forget to qualify it with your successes.
Then, insert (after completing them) these two statements
At board level what I do is…
I do that by…
Together, your first three sentences are key. So start strong by stating as clearly as possible that you have been working on and with boards and you know your value at board level. It is a powerful way to begin any board profile.
The 4th Sentence
You need to provide further detail of your experience at board level. The best way to do this is by providing some examples of success. By way of guidance, you might say something like “At board level, highlights include (add the key board/board level roles you have held)”. Then, state what your contribution to each was.
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.
By way of guidance, in order to do this, think about your successes in 3 ways:
- What was the reason you were appointed and have you fulfilled that appointment?
- What reasons would you give the Chair for you getting a ‘pay rise’?
- Link your success to the success of the business whilst you were a director.
The 5th 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, with 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 your highest-profile or most relevant positions first.
If then necessary, you can include some quantifiable statement of success as an executive. You might start with a sentence like this: “As CEO of ACB Corp I …”
The Final 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 underestimated, 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. If, however, you don’t have particularly good educational qualifications, then I do not recommend including them. Instead, join an industry membership body. By doing so you can then list them here; it will present you in a stronger light than having nothing at all.
Your board profile is the pivotal language that you will use during almost every step of the board appointment process – both formal and informal. It will also form the crux of your ‘elevator pitch’ that you will use when introducing yourself to prospective connections. Further, it is also the source from which you will write any board application, and will be at the centre of your cover letter and board CV. Without a well-crafted and easily articulated board profile, your board search will likely stagnate.
Getting your board profile right can take some time and it will differ depending on the recipient, so be willing and able to adapt it quickly. Remember that it, above all, should answer the question, “why should you be appointed to this board?” By answering this question, you will dare them not to appoint you
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.