Spotlight: Resumé writing for board candidates
A board candidate’s resumé is often the key factor in deciding who will be interviewed for an available board opportunity. Sending in your most recent job resumé for a board vacancy is a common error made even by highly qualified candidates—in fact, the most successful board resumés have a significantly different focus from a standard job resumé.
Here are some useful guidelines and tips for crafting a winning resumé that will set you apart from the field.
What differentiates a job resumé from a board resumé?
While both types of resumés display your professional skills, experience, and potential value to an organization, a board resumé has a different focus from a job resumé due to key differences between the respective roles.
A job resumé positions the candidate in the context of specific workplace roles and environments that tend to be hierarchical, with defined operational responsibilities, reporting relationships and job deliverables. In contrast, board directors function in a more collaborative and consensus-driven environment, bringing their relevant expertise to bear on organizational issues at a strategic—rather than operational—level.
Therefore a board resumé should demonstrate how an applicant will add value in that context. Board resumés should be focused and succinct: in addition to the candidate’s education, credentials and competencies, it should be specifically targeted to highlight a candidate’s leadership skills, knowledge of the organization and its sector, and commitment to (and networks in) the community in which the board is involved (e.g. volunteer experience).
Helpful tips and techniques:
- Start with a blank sheet (or screen) and a fresh perspective. Working from a job resumé aligns you with job-level assumptions and conventions. Adopt director-level perspectives when assessing your own experience and qualifications for the position.
- Do your homework. As with a job resumé, a top-notch board resumé should be tailored to the requirements of the position for which you are applying. When preparing a board resumé, make sure that you invest time in researching the organization and its sector to take advantage of every opportunity to demonstrate your value.
- Begin with a short, high-level “Board Profile” to describe yourself as a director candidate. Use these three to six sentences to tell the reader who you are and what you will bring to the board, focusing on your capability as a leader, collaborator, consensus-builder and strategic advisor, as well as any board-relevant skillsets or networks.
- Outline your professional history succinctly and in broad strokes. Focus on what you have done, demonstrating a strong match between your achievements and key board competencies rather than just listing where you have worked and the titles you have held. Unless a role is of specific relevance to the position of interest, descriptions should be strictly high level and limited to a three-line maximum.
- Highlight any previous board or committee experience. Briefly describe the experience and how it informs your candidacy—even if it may not be relevant to the board you are interested in, it demonstrates your leadership and commitment.
- Provide a brief description of any outside activities that demonstrate your leadership skills. List memberships in any professional or community organizations to which you belong, awards that highlight your professional and personal achievements, or any volunteer experience.
- Be focused, be succinct, be relevant. All of this information should be presented in two pages, three at most. Brevity is an asset.
Finally, it is always sound practice to have a colleague (or a resumé professional) take a critical look at your resumé to double-check for possible grammar, spelling or formatting problems, and ensure that you have accurately provided all of the information required to best position yourself for the role of board director. Good luck!