I’ve had the privilege of helping some phenomenal aspiring board members develop a compelling board resume. Over the years of doing this I have noticed that there are some common mistakes people make when preparing a board resume.
These mistakes are usually easily fixed with a change in perspective or approach, and in sweating the ‘small stuff’ that can make a big impact.
Thankfully, it’s usually a slight change that can take a resume from average to standout.
Here are the top five mistakes that I see in board resumes, and how you can avoid making the same ones.
1. Talking about what you do in your role rather than your key achievements
It’s common practice to see people list out a laundry list of tasks they do as part of their role. For example,
- Provide legal guidance on contracts,
- Create monthly financial reports, or
- Coordinate daily IT system backups.
Writing like this about your professional role doesn’t allow you to articulate the value that those tasks brings to the organisation. And they’re kind of boring to read if you’re looking at dozens of applications at one time (which usually happens during board recruitment drives).
This is where talking about your tasks in the context of the value it brings – or has bought – to the organisation. The focus shifts to the key achievements that you accomplish in your professional role(s); and you answer the ‘so what’ question (Why does it matter to the business that you provide legal advice or create monthly financial statements?).
Using the examples above, a more meaningful and powerful version of your key achievements would be:
- Effectively provided expert legal insights on supplier contracts ensuring payment terms that enabled better cash flow management across the business.
- Efficiently produced comprehensive monthly financial reports and forecasts to the board of directors to enable better-informed and timely decision-making.
- Successfully executed daily IT system backups ensuring the unimpaired continuation of day-to-day business activities.
Slight changes to just listing out your tasks gives greater insights into your expertise and skills. Ads that call for ‘demonstrated experience’ mean exactly this. And it makes it easy for the reader to understand your expertise and skills without them having to infer it from a laundry list of job inputs.
Two important things to point out:
- Note that each key achievement is written in past-tense; since they relate to achievements already achieved.
- The achievements tend to relate to the business, strategic, and/or financial outcomes that your key achievements have impacted. This is what board recruiters largely look for from board candidates: that you understand what business, strategic, and financial things matter to the business, and how your role relates to them.
2. Making it a chore – and a bore – to read
This point substantially relates to those resumes filled to the brim with information. WAY too much information. So much so that not even dot-points will save them.
Keeping your information concise and relevant (more on that in the next point) means your resume has the right amount of dot-points addressing the critical information, surrounded by plenty of white space to allow the reader’s eye to easily scan and take in the information.
Including coloured headings or something the break up each section will assist further with easy reading. Remember, the person receiving your resume will likely be trawling through many at one time. Don’t make it hard – they’re looking for reasons to put you in the ‘cut’ list (AKA the rubbish bin).
3. Focussing too much on irrelevant information
It’s exciting to apply for a board role. You want to make such a good impression that you include ALL the things that you’ve done in your career.
Just wait a hot minute!
Take a moment and imagine yourself in their shoes. What is the critical information that person wants to see from a board candidate / you? What matters most to them and their organisation? Is it that you secured a government grant to help save the rare cuttlefish from extinction; or is the fact that you secured a government grant in a highly competitive, highly regulated environment?
A slight perspective shift that helps you to write from the receiver’s perspective, rather than just what you want to tell them.
As a side not, I highly encourage you to develop a ‘base board CV’ where you write down everything you can think of that you have achieved over the course of your professional career. Then when it comes time to apply for a board opportunity, carefully go through this base board CV and scrupulously tailor it to the board / organisation you’re applying for.
4. Using the wrong language
Going one step beyond the point above, as you tailor your CV to a particular opportunity, consider making changes to the words you use and language you choose. As you’re reviewing the company (by thoroughly going through their website and talking to the Chair, recruiter, or another board member) make note of the language they use.
Adopt that language into your board resume.
Using words and language that are familiar to the person reading your resume will better help them pick up and remember the information. There have been studies demonstrating that resumes using similar language to the organisation’s are generally more successful. It may just be worthwhile making a few minor tweaks that can deliver big benefits.
5. Not addressing the required information
Unfortunately, I see this occurring in professional resumes as much as board resumes. In my eyes it’s a cardinal sin.
Nothing good can come from it and it comes across as either you’re spam-applying for opportunities, you didn’t read – or certainly didn’t pay attention to – the advertisement, you can’t – or don’t want to – follow instructions, and/or you believe that the reader can infer your suitability to the board from the (vague and irrelevant) information that you’ve sent through. All very bad starts to a potential board career (if you get that far).
If a board opportunity is accompanied by an advertisement that requests you provide ‘demonstrated expertise, qualifications and experience’ in a certain area or areas, then you should provide that information.
Remember to keep it on-point and relevant.
Also remember, recruiters are looking for reasons to have one less resume to ponder over. Don’t give them a reason to toss yours into the trash.
Crafting a compelling board resume takes a concerted effort to make it standout and to put yourself in the best position to hopefully get that board seat. Sometimes it’s worth sweating the small stuff.
Other articles to help you craft a compelling board resume.