In November we heard from Sarah Raiss’s Women On Board®mentee, Sandra Stuart, about identifying your board value proposition. This month, Sarah tells us more of what she’s learned, and what she’s sharing with Sandra about how crucial it is to make your board resume stand out from the crowd.
Most of us have our resume and a short biography included on our work websites alongside our photos. This is a great start, but, unless you’re a CEO, a typical resume listing your job accomplishments is not enough when you’re seeking a board role. Your resume and bio need to be tailored to the skills that boards are actually seeking. You want to make it as easy as possible for the members of nominating committees to see how you fit their criteria.
Know what boards look for. Depending on the board, the functional skills typically in demand include financial/accounting, strategy, risk expertise, P&L, experience running a complex business, compensation/HR expertise, operational expertise, international experience, occasionally legal/governance expertise, and, lately, digital/technology and cyber security expertise.
Showcase the skills boards are seeking. Which of your skills or areas of expertise makes you unique? Tailor your resume and bio to focus on the specific abilities you’ll bring to the table. Trying to check all of the skill boxes or be a “jack-of-all-trades” won’t set you apart from the crowd.
Highlight previous board experience. List any boards you have served on and for how long, which board committees you’ve been on, whether you’ve ever interacted with your own company’s board and in what capacity, and what you would bring to the specific board in question in terms of industry expertise or diversity of thought. Though I have a background in engineering, strategy, and operations, I tend to highlight my most recent experience in HR/compensation and mergers and acquisitions—“HR plus,” so to speak.
With all this in mind, Sandra and I sat down and began to tweak her resume. My advice was to begin by listing the boards she has served on and the dates of her tenure. Her service on HSBC’s Canada board, HSBC’s Finance Trust Company board (as Chair), UBC’s Sauders School of Business Faculty Advisory Board, and the United Way Cabinet demonstrates her board experience and leadership skills. We were able to highlight her expertise and accomplishments in the areas of banking, restructuring, technology, operations, and working internationally. Mentioning that she participates in the HSBC governance bodies that drive strategy and financial activities was a perfect way to round it out.
Our goal was to present all of Sandra’s experiences and expertise in a way that will capture a board’s interest and provide a snapshot of the unique skills and experiences she brings to the table. (A funny thing occurred to us while we were reviewing Sandra’s bio: she’d had some great face time with recruiters on her current boards, but had yet to inform them of her current desire to serve on external boards! Always remember to keep your existing contacts up-to-date on your interests.)
The toughest things to showcase in any resume are your style and people skills, so we had Sandra highlight her initiative and desire to learn and grow by mentioning the executive management courses she took at Harvard. Next, we had her emphasize throughout her resume that she enjoys collaborating and driving change through teams. Finally, Sandra’s participation on the United Way Cabinet, part of the management team of a well-recognized charity known to be team-based and accountability-driven, also demonstrates her experience in this area. All of this will give a board a glimpse into Sandra’s energetic and collaborative interpersonal style.
I’ve found it effective to have both a one-page bio targeted to board opportunities and a resume that highlights board-relevant experience as well as accomplishments from full-time roles. Because Sandra has both, she has been able to tailor them to the boards she’s most interested in quite easily.
Best of luck reworking your own board resume/bio! I promise it will be well worth your time.