A fail-safe CV stress test

A credible board CV is a necessity for senior executives keen to move up the ladder. There are a number of factors that should be considered to ensure a faultless application.

BHP Billiton chair Jac Nasser believes getting boardroom experience is a good step for senior executives wanting to move up the ladder.

Addressing an Australian Institute of Company Directors event this May, he said: "Many of us have gone through an organisation and risen through the ranks over many, many years and never really understood the environment of the board. So I encourage senior executives to join, say, one board.”

Performance and industry knowledge alone are not enough for a directorship. Board processes, liabilities and dynamics differ significantly to corporate management. The shifts involve moving from execution to oversight and from operational tactics to strategic analysis.

As pointed out in my previous article, 'Board Games – becoming a director' (May 1) if you are confident you can enter the fray, you need to get noticed. This includes messaging your aspirations and capabilities to your networks and to search firms. To be taken seriously you need a credible board CV.

Getting your resume right is difficult and time-consuming requiring considerable thought and focus. Then there is the issue of varying and differing preferences of search firms and nominations committees.

Executives are emotionally attached to their corporate resume – after all, it represents a life’s work. Yet, 'cutting and pasting' limits the quality needed for a board nomination. It is best to use different assumptions, adopt higher-level director thinking and start with a blank sheet.

The objective is to get you from long-list to short-list and in front of the people who matter. As the resume gets quickly browsed in the first instance, the key consideration becomes: is it easy to note your explicit contributions to this specific board.

While good structure and visual impact are mandatory, the key advice is to keep it relevant demonstrating a strong match between your achievements and the asked for competencies. Present what you will be able to do and have done, more than just outlining where you have been.

Fit should be apparent from the first half of page one. The profile summary brings together your unique capability in one or two paragraphs. It should be followed by three to six core skills that tie in with those required by the board.

Nominations committees need to know you can contribute in the context of the challenges and commercial realities of their specific board. Often, a phone call to one of the directors helps cut to the chase on what will really drive the selection decision.

Those reading the board resume want to know you can think clearly and put together a succinct presentation. Write in a straightforward, factual and direct style, yet with enough information to answer: ‘so what?’

The best cover letters objectively explain the relevance of your experience in the context of the particular board position. Rather than being self-promotional or a précis of your resume, it should set out what you will bring to the board based on the core strategic issues.

Before sending off your application to the search firm or nominations committee would your board CV pass these ten stress tests?

1. Have you taken a fresh and zero-based perspective?

2. Does it build the business case for your seat at the table?

3. Does it demonstrate you can think and operate as a non-executive director?

4. How relevant are your examples in articulating fit and competency?

5. Would those reading your resume have a clear understanding of your unique strengths and capability as a candidate?

6. Are your achievements clearly supported by meaningful evidence relevant to this board?

7. Are your board and committee role skill-sets apparent?

8. Is your brand reinforced – clear language and thought, logical structure, correct key words, professionally presented?

9. How well does your resume differentiate you from other nominees?

10. Does your LinkedIn or Director Registry profile reinforce your directorship objectives and board resume?

Dianne Jacobs is founding principal of The Talent Advisors, a boutique consultancy specialising in talent capital, board CVs and executive coaching. She tweets on leadership via @talentadvisors.