Making the board vitae? Don’t ignore these points

Published: Sun 15 Oct 2023, 10:03 PM

In the good old days of corporate board recruiting, the process was far different from that used for executive job seekers

By Ralph Ward & Dr M Muneer

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File photo used for illustrative purpose only.
File photo used for illustrative purpose only.

Many corporate honchos in the GCC want to become a board member at some point but they don’t even have a proper CV meant for the board selector attention. They think their achievements would speak for themselves. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way.

In the good old days of corporate board recruiting, the process was far different from that used for executive job seekers. Everyone knew each other, someone would put in a good word with the board’s nominating committee, they would do a few chats to see how well you fit with the team, and that was that.

That’s no more the case, at least in professionally managed companies. Along with tougher standards and demands for directors (which require deeper vetting), the search process has edged closer to that used for most other job applicants. You require much more detailed vitae, deeper reference checking, and typically multiple rounds of interviews before receiving an invitation to the boardroom. Lesser known is that the technology tools used to make job applicant review more of a science are being applied to the resume you submit as a board wannabe.

Almost all major companies use applicant-tracking systems (ATS) to scan resumes of job seekers for keywords and hard skills tied to job descriptions. As board search has become more formalised, the same ATS tools are being applied. How should your board resume change to keep up with the new world of keywords?

We have written many articles for board wannabes, offering a multitude of tips to clinch that board role. What you will need now is to revise the resume for specific buzzwords that target your board-ability. Board nominating committees increasingly draft company HR into helping them with intake and background checking, and they’re using ATS tools as a matter of process. Also, tapping outside executives and specialty search firms to find board prospects is steadily increasing, especially for diversity-minded boards. Headhunters are even more focussed on using ATS to find the hot button words for needed skills.

So what are these hot buttons? Wish there were magic words, but every resume needs to be tailored to fit. Still, there are general terms that target skills desired in any boardroom. Board, Governance, Committee, CEO, Trustee, Advisory, Director, and Chairman are some obvious title-related candidates, sort of ATS table stakes for your board vitae. But realise that these don’t necessarily need to describe your titles to be effective. It could also be, “Worked as top resource person for our board and committee chairs...” or “Served as advisor to directors and CEO in strategic governance review...” If your governance nuggets are more board adjacent than direct, ATS can actually be an ally.

Next up are keywords showing how you bring hands-on top-level background that most boards will be seeking. Strategy, mergers and acquisitions, P&L, ROI, succession planning, turnaround, capital raising, digital, risk management, compliance, audit, financial, shareholders, stakeholders, regulatory, internal controls or sustainability and DEI. Smart use of these on your vitae should set the ATS lights flashing, and also be sure to tie them to deliverables. Citing actual numbers for improvement in revenues, market share, sales, customer counts, percentages, etc. with the words above is good for scanning, and even more for actual human vitae readers. Our eyes tend to blur over too many buzzwords, but numbers catch the eye.

Your next step is customisation – there are no truly effective “general” board vitae. Learn all you can about the company, its situation, its industry, its current board, and governance needs. If you’re lucky, you can track down a director job description for the board. If not, just try connecting with the chair of the nominating committee for a chat. Not only does this give you a personal tie, but also you can pump the chair for intelligence on what’s sought on their board (and keywords describing it). This approach works as well with a board that isn’t currently seeking talent, but is on your future wish list.

Ralph Ward
Ralph Ward

Fortunately, the topic of resume keywords has plenty of good online resources. JobScan specialises in this aspect of vitae design, and has a good primer on the topic. ResumeWorded, another online resource, offers a brief specifically for your board vitae.

Dr M Muneer
Dr M Muneer

Ralph is global board adviser, coach and publisher. Dr M Muneer is a Fortune-500 adviser, startup investor and co-founder of the non-profit Medici Institute for Innovation.

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