Create a Successful Board Bio
Winning a board position requires experience, brevity and an inviting smile.
Anyone who has read both The Wall Street Journal and USA Today knows they are very different newspapers. The Wall Street Journal is detailed and in-depth for those who want to dig in, while USA Today is to the point and serves “just the facts” for people on the move. According to Rajan Sheth, retired chairman and CEO of Mead & Hunt and current member of several boards, when it comes to putting together your board bio, the latter publication’s approach is preferred.
“Keep it very short and concise. People really don’t have much attention span. Don’t put your neighborhood association involvement. People aren’t really looking for that.”
Cindy Burrell, who has made her career working in executive search, including her current position as president of board consulting firm Diversity in Boardrooms, recommends that those in search of board assignments have a one-page bio, a two-page resume and the URL to their LinkedIn profile (which should be up to date). For the board bio, Burrell, an advisory board member for Skytop Strategies, recommends the inclusion of four or five bullet points focused expressly on corporate board experience and expertise, which should appear alongside the position-seeker’s picture. For those who are seeking their first corporate board position, other accomplishments can be listed, such as SEC-qualified financial expert status, Burrell notes.
“But what you’ll find on this journey of doing a board bio and a resume is that there are a lot of opinions about it, and everyone doesn’t agree perfectly,” she adds.
Very true, because Sheth finds a two-page bio to be too long. He recommends that the bio be kept to one page, the first half of which (in his case) explains his vast experience in the engineering, architecture and consulting industries. The second part of his resume is a summary of his board expertise, as well as his experience with the education community in his field. Two spaces where Sheth and Burrell certainly agree is the inclusion of phone number, email and LinkedIn URL on the board bio and on the style of photo that should be included on the board bio. And by style, they mean “Dress to impress and let that smile shine through.”
“People think ‘Oh, corporate. It’s so serious.’ But that is not good at the board level because they want someone who is a communicator, is friendly and is a consensus builder,” says Burrell. “They want to see some personality, so please have your best smile.”
Susan Kearney, managing director and board member of strategic advisory firm Newport LLC and copresident of Private Directors Association’s D.C. Metro Chapter, says that an inviting, well-composed photo on a board bio speaks volumes, communicating civility, relatability and comfort.
“When we’re looking to recruit, we want someone who will have a unique perspective, who can be civil and play well in the sandbox. They can say what they mean, but in a nice way. It’s someone who you can be comfortable with in a boardroom in a tough situation and a tough conversation. That picture somehow makes people feel more at ease.”
Like Sheth and Burrell, Kearney is a proponent of the “quality, not quantity” school of board bio authorship. She understands that the overwhelming majority of individuals in the market for board positions have a wealth of exciting accomplishments that they would like to detail. However, for this valuable board document, she would have the candidate make a list of all the points they would like to put on their board bio and then winnow it down to their best three. And whatever it is that you put on your board bio better match what you put on your LinkedIn profile.
“If people see that your board bio and your LinkedIn are out of sync, and they’re scratching their head trying to figure out which is right, that’s a really easy way to go on the B pile.”
As for the don’ts of the board bio, it’s best not to engage in puffery. Don’t commit errors, even those of the typographic sort. And never falsify credentials or omit directorships that didn’t go to plan.
Or, as Burrell says, “It’s the fine art of showcasing your strengths. Some people don’t showcase them enough. Just don’t embellish.”