Before you begin your board search it is important to develop your unique board profile
This will become your ‘board business card’. After stripping away the contextual issues, in my experience, there are essentially five criteria that need to be addressed when writing a board profile. They are:
Past board or committee experience
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. For those who have not done the (board) role in question before you should use similar words or phrases to the ones used in the role title to reflect that you have done similar work at a similar level. Be careful not to misrepresent yourself but, for example, if you are a Chief Executive, though not a non executive director, you may be able to write “I am a board level chief executive’.
An Executive Skill Set
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.
Personal connections are as important to boards as they are to the organisation itself. Demonstrating how your personal connections’ (otherwise known as ‘networks’) benefit the board/organisation is key. The value of your personal connections should not be underestimated – they offer more to an organisation than you might imagine. In the end, this is a key part of your unique selling point (usp) and a key reason people get appointed to boards.
People are drawn to others with a clear mission, purpose or vision. This can often be termed having a ‘passion’. Passion is, I believe, key to being able to effectively serve on a board. While in some cases it is not essential for you to be passionate about what the organisation does specifically (though ideally you would be) but you should at the very least be passionate about what you can contribute.
The Chair works hard to ensure that the board is a functioning body. Any change to the composition to the board risks upsetting that fine balance. As such, the Chair is going to be nervous about any new board appointment – particularly one that they do not know. It is therefore essential that they are comfortable with the ‘cultural fit’ of an individual. There are some easy ways to provide comfort in this situation – the easiest is to demonstrate that you are not a risk by evidencing commonalities – in experience, in connections and the four areas above!
To put all of this into more familiar context the five criteria that boards look for in potential board appointees are not dissimilar from what you might expect in an executive appointment. Since these criteria will answer the needs of a board for a new candidate, it’s crucial to address them as part of your board profile.
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