Of fundamental importance is understanding and being able to articulate your offering to a board. Whilst this may seem obvious it is one of the most significant challenges I see potential board members struggle with.
Further, beyond providing clarity in your own mind, your board profile must also form the basis of your CV, your cover letter and be the ‘golden thread’ that links your entire board application together. As such it is probably the most important piece of writing you will do during your board application journey. As such, it’s important that it says all you need it to say. An effective board profile can make the difference between being appointed or not even seen for an interview.
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.
When it comes to writing an effective board profile, it is critically important to get your story straight – this means you need to start thinking about, and understanding what, it will be used for. As I said before, you can use your board profile to formulate your elevator pitch. Having a well thought out and effective elevator pitch can help you sidestep the dreaded Fatal Attribution Error. Keeping this in mind, it’s important that you realize that your board profile will not just be used on your CV or in written applications. You should write it in the knowledge that this is also the language you will use when you introduce yourself to new connections.
There is no such thing as a static board profile. With an effective board profile, the elements and language will change depending on the reader and what their organisation is seeking. When writing your profile, you should keep firm in your mind not just how you will respond to the reasons people get put on boards but also who will appoint you. You really need to think about the sort of organisation you are pitching yourself to – and adjust your board profile accordingly.
The opening statement
I strongly recommend that you start your written profile with the words ‘I am a …’. Ideally you will then state your board experience. In this case, you would write something like ‘I am a Non-Executive Director’ (or Chair or Committee Member).
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 section is about grabbing attention – more detail will follow later.
The reason for doing it this way is that you will, straight off the bat, tell the Chair or the appointing body that you can do the job and have done it before. At the very least it will suggest board or senior leadership experience.
In my role as a search consultant, finding someone who had previous experience in the role I was looking for, was the very first thing I looked for 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.
Always keep in mind that, whether it be an HR director, recruiter or the Chair, each will have to convince others before you are offered an appointment. You need to make it easy for them to do so; the easiest way to do that is to tell them you have prior board experience.
Obviously, if you haven’t served as a non-executive director or committee member before, you need to use key phrases to promote your board level experience. In this case I recommend starting your board profile with ‘I am a Board Level CEO (or Director or something similar)’. In the absence of even this level experience, you could state that you have worked for or reported into boards before.
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.
The 2nd sentence
Following a strong opening statement, you need to support it with some detail of your experience. Here you convince people that you are not an aspiring non-executive but rather an experienced board level professional. Your 2nd sentence should start with:
At board level I have sat on the boards of …
You will then include just the names of the organisations and perhaps your board titles such as Chair or Deputy Chair and/or other committee or board titles.
Demonstrating your effectiveness
Straight after the 2nd sentence you need to demonstrate that not only did you sit on these boards but that you were an effective board member.
This is a key area to consider. You need to think about how you can evidence what it is that you contributed to a board. You may have overseen the accounts, a particular program, an audit, a new CEO appointment or something similar. You may also have seen the organisation grow during your tenure or had a particularly successful outcome or involvement with board matters. Spend some time and think about what it is that you contributed or can contribute to a board.
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. Start it like this:
Here, I can evidence having … (and include your successes or contribution)
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.
This section should be easier to do than the previous section as most of it should already be in your executive CV. Here I recommend beginning with:
In an executive capacity, I am currently… (and then enter the title and organisation that you currently work for).
Following this, briefly state your previous experience. Make it readable so focus on the highest profile roles you have held the highest profile organisations you have worked for. Not everything you have ever done needs to be included here, as it will be in the body of your CV.
Executive skill set
This section of your profile further addresses the specific skills you can provide but is also an opportunity for you to demonstrate
- Your Connectedness – and therefore your cultural fit
- Your passion for – and experience in – the sector or industry that the board operates in.
This section will incorporate the skills that keep you employed on a day to day basis. Just mention it briefly, as your CV will do the rest. Here I recommend beginning by using words like:
Further, I can demonstrate …
There are some pitfalls to compiling this section of your board profile. Remember that, despite this being about your executive experience, you are still pitching yourself for a board appointment. This means staying away from your operational experience and focusing on your strategic experience and success. Do not mention the number of people you manage or how you can balance the books. Instead, talk about your work with boards or the strategic guidance you have provided in the past. Again, be specific with names and details or figures as much as you can.
This will form the final part of your board profile.
The importance of a governance qualification shouldn’t be underestimated and if you have one, this is the place to show it off – in addition to your other qualifications and memberships. These will all be considered as part of your application.
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.
You should also list the names of the industry or governance bodies you are a member of as they can demonstrate intent.
I recommend you use the following words to begin the final sentence of your profile:
Finally, I have a … and I am a member of…
If you don’t have particularly good qualifications, then I do not recommend including them. Instead, join an industry membership body such as the AICD or Governance Institute of Australia. By doing so you can then list them here; it will present you in a stronger light than having nothing at all.
An example of a poor board profile
The following is an example of a very common but very poor example of a board profile. It will go something like this:
I am seeking a board position. I have strategic experience across a number of sectors and industries. I have worked with boards before and have over 20 years experience.
Why is this a poor board profile?
- It begins with an aspirational statement – the assumption will be that they don’t have board level experience
- It is generic – therefore forgettable. Remove all generic statements in your profile and only include what you can support with definite statements
- There is no detail of what they do, making it impossible to evidence any success
- There are no qualifications included, opening them up to the assumption of an unintelligent and uneducated candidate.
- All in all, it is a uninspiring, dispassionate and forgettable.
An example of a good board profile
You are welcome to use the following as a template. Feel free to make it your own so it reflects your own style.
I am a BOARD TITLE (Non-Executive, Committee Member, Chair and Director) and EXECUTIVE TITLE with over NO. OF YEARS board level experience across the X, Y & Z (public, private, not for profit) sectors. Specifically, I can evidence success in the following industries: U, V & W. At board level, some highlights include: S, T & U. Further, in an executive capacity I am currently the TITLE of M and was previously the TITLE of O. My primary responsibility was J, K & L. Finally, I have a QUALIFICATION and a QUALIFICATION. I am also a Member of the ORGANISATION and ORGANISATION.
Your own profile is likely to be longer than this as it will include more detail. However, if it is any more than twice as long you should consider removing some text as your success and appropriateness for the role will be lost if there is too much to read.
Board applications differ from regular executive applications in terms of tone, content and style. Not having bespoke documents that meet the criteria set out – such as an appropriate cover letter and/or board CV – will all drastically limit your chances of being selected for an interview. Most of all, you will definitely stand no chance at being appointed.
When we write your Board Application, we will help craft your board profile, which will eventually form part of your CV, application and the supporting statement you send to the organisation.
Don’t let a poor application ruin your chances of being appointed. Let us craft your board application – and an effective board profile – so you can dare them not to appoint you.
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About the Author
David Schwarz is CEO & Founder of Board Direction – Australia’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. He has been described as Australia’s leading board recruitment expert, is a published author, a regular speaker on the board appointment process and runs Board Search Masterclasses across Australia. He is one of Australia’s Top 10 LinkedIn users with over 20,000 connections. Email: [email protected]