80%+ of all board appointments made occur via informal recruitment methods. This means that 20% of people are appointed to boards via recruiters or in response to an advertised opportunity. In these cases, three documents are potentially required: 1. a Board CV, 2. a Board Cover Letter. and 3. a Board Supporting Statement. In this article, I will explain how to write a board supporting statement.
Not every board application will require a dedicated board supporting statement. And, yes, some of the content will be included in your board cover letter. If selection criteria are listed, my advice is that a board supporting statement is non-negotiable. If you are still unsure whether you need a separate Supporting Statement or not, then speak with the advertiser or recruiter before putting pen to paper.
What is the purpose of a board supporting statement?
A board supporting statement is a document designed to complement your board CV and board cover letter. It is a dedicated document that addresses a list of stated selection criteria, essential and recommended. The selection criteria are usually listed within a job specification document or within the advertisement. There will be occasions when you will need to contact the recruiter or advertiser to obtain the list. The selection criteria are basically the list of skills, experiences and qualities that the recruiting organisation believes are required to be considered for their board appointment. The list of attributes could be brief and generic or extensive and detailed.
In the first instance, it is vital to understand the purpose of the board supporting statement. This knowledge will impact the style of writing and content of the document. Secondly, you must acknowledge the importance of the document. A board supporting statement is used by recruiting organisations and selection committees to make yes or no decisions. It is perhaps the document that carries the most weight in this regard. You must give it the gravitas it demands. Skimping on writing this document can have a detrimental effect on the success of your application.
To be more specific, the board supporting statement is used to grade your application and, in turn, determines who is and isn’t put on the interview shortlist. An “A” candidate is someone who meets all the criteria, whereas a “C” candidate meets few, if any, of the criteria. Obviously, it is the “A” candidates that are the first to be invited to interview. When there are multiple A candidates, the strength of your research and board cover letter then comes into play. Strong research and a board cover letter will not count for much unless you have a compelling Supporting Statement.
Jump through the hoops – regardless
The process for writing a board supporting statement is relatively formulaic. Some may feel restricted by this approach as they feel unable to express themselves fully or will be tempted to provide too much content or write the document in a style that better suits them. Unfortunately, this document is not the place to do this. Leave it for your board cover letter. The board supporting statement must only provide the information the advertiser wants from you; in a format that is easy for them to read and grade.
When writing a board supporting statement, many find themselves frustrated by addressing seemingly obvious criteria that already appear in their board CV or are referenced in their board cover letter. I empathise with you. Having to rewrite the content seems insane. However, it is essential you do so because the recruiting organisation has designed a process that relieves them from having to wade through hundreds of CVs, written in varying degrees of clarity and formats, to get the information they require. Instead, they have tasked you to provide the information they require in the form of a board supporting statement. It steps them through why you are a good fit and should be appointed.
In some instances, you may be frustrated by addressing criteria seemingly asking for the same response as earlier criteria. It is essential you remain patient and focused, prepared to jump through the hoops the advertiser or recruiter and the chair have set before you. Whether you think the criteria are the same or even irrelevant, the truth is that the organisation will have thought long and hard about these criteria. If they appear absurd or irrelevant at first glance, there are likely nuances within each criterion that are important to the appointing organisation and need to be recognised.
Framework and Process for writing a Board Supporting Statement
There is a very simple framework and process I follow when writing an effective Board Supporting Statement.
Here is my process:
- Once you have found the selection criteria, cut and paste them into a word document. Number accordingly.
- Prepare – have in your mind between 3 and 6 examples that demonstrate successfully having achieved what it is that each criterion is asking for. These examples should ideally be at board level, but executive examples count too.
- Write a paragraph or two evidencing for each criteria evidencing how your experience meets each of those criteria – you can also use bullet points to the same effect.
- Focus on your board level success. But how on earth can you demonstrate your individual success as a non-executive director when you are participating in group decision-making? By way of guidance, think about your successes in 3 ways.
- Why were you appointed to that board or role in the first place? And have you fulfilled the reason for that appointment?
- What reasons would you give the Chair if you were asking for a pay rise?
- Link your success to the success the organisation experienced whilst you were a non-executive director.
- Use T. E. E to answer each criterion
- Technical: Clearly state that you meet the criteria. Reframe the criteria from a question to a statement. If the question is about governance, state clearly that you have X years of governance experience. Make the statement powerfully and unambiguously, then;
- Example: Provide examples of the roles you have held that support the previous statement. Something like “Perhaps the best example I can provide demonstrating my governance expertise was as a Non-Executive Director of X, Y and Z”, then finally;
- Evidence: Provide examples of success in these roles. Perhaps say something like: “As a NED of Company X, I improved the governance by…” (include your success and outcomes).
Here’s what not to do when writing a board supporting statement:
- Don’t address the criteria by making reference to the content contained in your board CV.
- Don’t provide too much context – often board supporting statements spend too much time articulating the context of your experience. Equally, too much emphasis is often placed on the mechanisms of the work that you did rather than how successful that work was. It is the latter that will separate you from your competitors.
- Don’t reference responses to similar criteria.
- Don’t write a letter – address each criterion individually.
- Don’t miss any criteria.
- Don’t take shortcuts.
- Don’t combine criteria – treat each criterion individually. If you can’t see the difference, you should speak with the recruiter or advertiser to understand the nuances more clearly. I can guarantee that there is one, and you will be judged accordingly if you don’t address it.
“Dare them not to appoint you”
An excellent way to get your mindset right is to always assume that hundreds of people applying for the very same board role. The phrase I use when writing any board supporting statement for my members is to “dare you not to appoint you”. I find this provides focus and helps you to write a more compelling and succinct document. Ultimately, it should encourage you to only include information that is going to help them to make an “A” candidate. In fact, some of the most powerful board supporting statements I have seen, “dare them not to appoint”, in just a list of bullet points evidencing their success.
Get a return on the investment of your time
Few enjoy writing a board supporting statement; they are time-consuming and dull. This is the very reason why you should write one that is compelling enough to get appointed. And with a bit of luck, you won’t have to write another one again any time soon. Any future board supporting statements you need to write will likely have similar content. So spending the time to write a genuinely compelling document will make subsequent application writing easier and quicker.
Don’t have the time to write board supporting statements? We can help with our unlimited application review service as part of an Executive Membership.
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
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