by Maryfran Johnson

5 key ingredients for the ideal board resume

Apr 27, 20205 mins

Whether it's a DIY rewrite of your executive CV or a professionally produced document, every board candidate needs a resume that shines.

Concise, relevant and factual. Yet also personal, engaging and polished. Preferably on one impressive page.

That what your resume should be when it lands in front of the board of directors considering you for that open seat.

“It’s about how you brand yourself and tell your personal story,” says Jean Holley, former CIO of Brambles and an experienced board director. “Be real about who you are. You have to highlight the value you would bring to the board.”

As a board member for the past 14 years at a publicly held data security company, Holley chairs the governance committee and regularly reviews slates of candidates. She’s also held free “board readiness” workshops for small groups of executives across her professional networks in Atlanta, Chicago and San Francisco.

In one of those workshops, she set out the ideal ingredients for a board resume. She says applicants should:

  • Explain your leadership style: describe who you are and what kind of leader you are;
  • Highlight skills & expertise: clearly spell out your industry expertise and the skill areas of greatest relevance to a board (e.g., cyber risk, IT transformation, strategy & operations, M&A experience);
  • Make it specific: tailor your resume to the board’s position description for the open seat;
  • Dive deeper in key areas: include an additional 1-3 paragraphs with an overview of relevant career experience; and
  • Show you’re ready: highlight any current or past board experience (nonprofits, private boards, industry associations, etc.)

Here’s an example of how one former CIO who now sits on several boards succinctly introduces himself at the top of his board resume: “Seasoned Chief Information Officer (CIO) with 30+ years’ experience in IT leadership, setting the overall strategy for enterprise architecture, applications and infrastructure. Changed the trajectory of the company by leading the complete transformation of IT to focus on business outcomes, world-class governance, and global collaboration. CIO to three highly accomplished CEOs.”

Resume, bio or both?

One recent trend in board searches is a greater demand for a traditional resume format instead of the narrative bio form, says Rochelle Campbell, director of the recruitment practice at the National Association for Corporate Directors (NACD). “On a resume you have to demonstrate the data. I tell everyone I talk to that you need both: a good board bio and a resume.”

Annabelle Bexiga, a retired Fortune 100 CIO and veteran director of public, private and nonprofit boards, made use of NACD’s resume resources to simplify the task of revising her executive resume. “They have a sample board director resume, and I reformatted mine according to that,” she says. “Basically, you want to highlight your boards first and career experience second.” What kind of career expertise do boards look for on candidate resumes? That list runs the gamut from C-level experience in specific industries, finance or enterprise risk management, to demonstrated leadership in strategy, information technology, international management or corporate governance.

Ultimately, boards are looking for specific talents and skills to fill in whatever gaps exist in their own expertise.

Potential candidates can spot those gaps — and improve their own chances — by examining the published board bios. “Say you want to join a board in a certain industry. Study that industry, and look at the bios of the other board members,” Holley recommends.  “Those bios will be written in the culture of that company, and they’ll be consistent.” 

Executive CV vs. board resume

An executive career resume is more likely to be chronological, highly detailed and skills-focused. “Career resumes are really about how much money you will make for the organization, the ROI of hiring you,” says Brenda Bernstein, author of How to Write a Stellar Executive Resume.  Technology leaders can demonstrate those numbers through the results of successful IT modernizations, large change initiatives such as digital transformations, and before-and-after examples of technology implementations that improved efficiencies. “There is ROI in all of that work,” Bernstein points out.

By contrast, a board resume must showcase broader business acumen and judgment in multiple domains. “Board resumes are more succinct,” says Melanie Steiner, chief risk officer at PVH Inc. She recently joined US Ecology’s public board. “Mine was a one-pager, covering what I did and where I added value.” To prepare it, she collected and studied a number of board bios from connections in her network and then worked with professional writers who specialize in creating board documents. “In the end, it’s about who you are.”

Along with demonstrating leadership qualities and business accomplishments, what else should board candidates emphasize? “Finance, finance, finance. That’s the big one,” adds Bernstein. In working recently with clients on their board documents, Bernstein has noticed that “people want more numbers on their board resumes.”