5 Ways to Optimize your Executive CV for Board of Director Roles

executives having discussion

Yes, substance and credentials are everything, but messaging is critical to get your foot in the door. Here are 5 board CV writing techniques to help you bring out the must-have boardroom competencies for a seat at the top.

In an era where some corporations wield more economic muscle than entire governments, weak corporate governance can wreak colossal damage—just look at how many nations collapsed in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. Countless livelihoods were destroyed, families upended due to the loss of their homes, and most devastatingly, suicide cases spiked. In a 2014 study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry on the Great Recession’s effects on suicide rates, U.S. suicide rates increased by 4.8% after the start of the recession, with 4,750 cases attributable to the Great Recession.

On the flip side, good corporate governance is a bastion for transformational growth and shared prosperity. With terms such as “conscious capitalism” and “ESG investing” gathering steam in recent years, there is no doubt that the scope of what counts as “good” governance has been broadened to include environmental stewardship and responsibility toward stakeholders instead of just shareholders.

This demand for a higher standard of operation translates into a need for more quality board directors—an area of growth for senior-level executives seeking to make a career move that commensurates with their years of experience and contribution to the industry.

While factors such as branding, visibility, network, and of course, timing, have a strong bearing on the length of time it takes one to land his or her first board directorship, this blog post zeroes in on just one part of it—creating a board-optimized CV as a critical branding tool.

A well-written board CV is of paramount importance to get in front of the nominating and governance committee, even if you were invited to put yourself forward for a directorship…especially if you were invited.

I was once approached by a client who wanted to have a board CV written as he had received one such invitation. He had already built up a successful career in the technology sector, so I asked him why he wanted to invest in a professionally crafted CV when it seemed like he already had a foot in the door. “It’s not about having a foot in a door, but it’s precisely because he’s backing my candidacy that I want to put my best foot forward.”

The key principle when crafting a board-sticky resume: an executive resume showcases your ability to “do” while a board resume emphasises your ability to “oversee.”

Below are 5 writing techniques that turn this principal into application (to be clear, management and board CVs are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but the latter does require one to put deeper thought into highlighting the more strategic and advisory aspects of one’s experience).

1. Demonstrated growth experience and forward-looking mindset

Capitalize on the prime spot at the top of your resume to convey industry expertise and strategic leadership qualities, within a particular growth context, as opposed to simply the full breadth of your skills and experience.

different stages of butterfly metamorphosis

Why? Boards are more forward-looking than BAU by definition. They are formed to shape an agenda for the company’s future. Contextualising your experience helps the reader to immediately size up and map your expertise to what the company needs for its next milestone, like this:

Management CV: Over 20 years’ clinical and commercial leadership experience in healthcare industry across APAC and EMEA.

Board CV: Led 3 healthcare companies at varying stages of maturity through IPOs, internationalisation, M&As and turnarounds in APAC and EMEA markets.

2. Capturing a panoramic shot instead of a macro shot

While a management resume focuses on specific business objectives achieved such as revenue, margin growth, key contracts negotiated, number of new markets entered, headcount, cost savings within a specific time frame, a board resume has to go beyond that to demonstrate a long-term mindset.

The below example shows similar content being framed differently. The critical difference is this—the first positions you as an operator, the second, as a steward.

Management CV: Achieved targets for 20 consecutive quarters, growing revenue by 4X to $200M.

Board CV: Shaped a start-up into one of the 3 leading players in the industry within 5 years, edging out larger, more established incumbents. (In fact, if you’re targeting the VC or private equity space or any company that is in a high-growth stage, your management CV should also be worded this way also).

3. Demonstrate soft power

To borrow a term from the world of politics, the boardroom is all about “soft power”. It’s the ability “to get others to want what you want, to frame the issues, to set the agenda” as described by Joseph S. Nye Jr.

board of directors CV soft power

Given that board positions are advisory in nature and governance-focused, it’s all the more critical that skills in shaping the agenda, building trust, relationships and influencing toward consensus be articulated.

Doing this will give you TREMENDOUS edge, simply because so few candidates do—and it’s such a pity because it’s a missed opportunity to tell a great story and weave more depth into your resume. Beyond the facts and figures, board selection committees want to get a sense of who you are and how you effected change.

Here are a few writing prompts that will help you convey soft power (do be mindful and exercise high discretion when it comes to disclosing potentially sensitive/confidential information). Talk about the time when you:

  • Successfully advocated for business-critical change
  • Secured consensus on a controversial issue including serious conflict
  • Provided a framework for the company to navigate a crisis

Management CV: Led turnaround of a loss-making business with successful flagship product relaunch, achieving EBITDA $165M within 2 years.

Board CV: Rallied product heads to resolve performance issues; relaunched flagship product which generated major account wins to capture $165M EBITDA within 2 years.

Another example:

Management CV: Directed launches in 5 new markets.

Board CV: Solidified relations with trade organizations to create $300M in new business across unexplored markets.

4. Flesh out specialised skills

Don’t lump your portfolio under a generic “business development” if you have experience dealing with international markets/complex industries, or brokering high-stakes negotiations. These are highly valued, specialised skills that should be capitalised on. Don’t leave it up to others to “read between the lines.”

Another huge one, especially since the pandemic—digital quotient. The inaugural issue of The Board Perspective: A collection of McKinsey insights focusing on boards of directors reports the need for directors with the “technological chops to recognise breakthrough digital initiatives as well as any hidden security of data risks.” If you have experience driving digital transformation, for example, be sure to leverage this fully -while a management CV focuses on the “what,” a board CV goes beyond that to focus on “why” and “how” to capture the mindset and rationale of the board candidate.

Management CV: Set overall technology agenda—lead IT assessments, innovations and investments into AI and ML innovation.

Board CV: Identified and harnessed cutting-edge technologies by harnessing data and ML, transforming customer engagement capabilities for a robust omni-channel experience.

5. List advisory/committee experience and board interactions

Even if you’ve never held a board position, you can demonstrate your understanding of how boards work by including your experience reporting or presenting to boards, shares Edwin Yeo, CEO and Managing Director (Singapore) of Cornerstone International Group in a BlueSteps Asia Pacific & Middle East Webinar Series in Feb 2021.

If you’ve held advisory roles or done committee work, perhaps as a member of strategy, risk, audit, D&I and digital taskforces, these should be included as well, adds Yeo.

Similarly, even if you’ve never held a formal governance role, underscore your governance acumen through your experience working in highly regulated industries like finance or pharmaceuticals that have stringent compliance and reporting standards. Keywords should include the following if relevant: due diligence, financial reporting and shareholder/investor relations.

In conclusion

The above writing techniques are intended to be less prescriptive than suggestive, in order to provide writing inspiration for those who seek to serve at the highest echelons of the corporate kingdom.

Crystallising your value proposition as a strategic collaborator, advisor and influencer is but step one in your goal toward a board directorship.

If you have a burden and vision for a particular industry, let these lead you to seek out kindred spirits for genuine dialogue and exchange. These will in turn guide you to the right connections and opportunities—for there is indeed a gaping need for ethical, courageous leadership in the marketplace right now, to help create meaningful change in a world facing, at once, dire challenges and unprecedented opportunities.

This article was first published on LinkedIn on 17 June, 2021.