by Athena Alliance member Chitra Nayak
You decide it’s time to get yourself ready for the next chapter in your career, and you think it might just be getting on a board. So, how do you tell your story? At the end of the day, your board bio is a sales tool, and you are making a case for why and how “the product” (you) is the best fit for the board role at a company. Some tips to consider:
Be targeted. What is your value? Are you most relevant to a particular industry? Or within a particular functional area across multiple industries? Is most of your experience with large companies? With startups? US-based? Global? You get the idea.
For example, I spoke with someone who has deep expertise in banking and with the regulatory environment around cash management. Clearly a bank is the first, most evident target. However, by extension, it is likely that fintech companies providing specific services need this expertise as well. Approach your target industry systematically:
- Identify what aspects of your experience might be a potential match for the industry and why. Use them to develop your value proposition. Highlight these aspects in your board bio.
- Test your value proposition: make a list of likely companies in the industry that might need your expertise, and read the annual reports, the websites, the news to understand if your value proposition “fits”.
- Talk to others in the industry to test and validate your hypotheses about what skills are relevant to showcase.
If your knowledge is broadly relevant to a functional area, and not necessarily a specific industry, it can be both harder and easier. The easier part? For example, a cybersecurity-focused CIO can be relevant to a large number of industries, as the skill set is fungible and applicable across a wide range. However, even in these cases, it may be that the CIO is more experienced in on-premise vs cloud-based systems.
The harder part? You may be perceived as not specialized enough if you have a diversity of industries on your resume. How you write your board bio is very dependent on what you are targeting and why.
Make it about them, not about you: Should your story be about yourself and what you have achieved? Well, not really… it should be about how you might fit what a company needs on their board. Some board bios I have read tend to go on and on about the background and experiences an individual has. However, it is vital that these experiences are in the context of your primary value proposition for your target space. Think about:
- What value can you deliver to a board and a company?
- What relevant experiences do you have to support and make your value proposition credible?
- What committees might be most in line with your value-add?
Make your story a crisp and credible one structured around this thinking, versus “let me tell you all about the wonderful things I have ever done”. Let go of experiences that do not add “heft” to your story.
Numbers and achievements are great, but only if they are relevant. I repeat: let go of experiences that do not add “heft” to your story. Numbers that share how you have grown something, or have created operating efficiencies, or have hit certain targets…these are all deeply valuable if they crystallize and bring credibility to your claim of expertise in an area. Similarly, awards are helpful if they highlight credibility in this area that supports your value proposition.
Another thought for you: make sure that you provide context for jargon-heavy achievements or awards, and expand less-known acronyms; it is important that the reader easily understand why something is meaningful.
You are not positioning yourself primarily as an operator; can you help the company think through its strategy? Provide examples of how you have helped to formulate and drive strategy, either in leadership roles at a company or on other boards you serve on. While the board may also be looking to learn about your functional and/or industry-specific expertise, consider where this expertise has helped your company enhance its position in the marketplace in significant ways. Weave the numbers and the descriptions together to make your case.
Use your board bio real-estate wisely. A board bio is one page long, and most of us find it challenging to “fit it all in”. So you reduce the font, then you shrink the margins. You feel the need to tell all…you have had such an amazing career, it must be of interest! Step back and think about how it would come across if you were the reader:
- How readable is your bio? Does it look crowded?
- Do the key messages show up clearly?
- Do you make it easy for someone taking a quick look to “get” it?
- For someone reading your board bio for the first time, can she play back to you what your value proposition is, and why a company might find you relevant?
Ask your colleague, or friendly board members in your network, to take a look and give you some honest input. If your bio is to be used as a screening mechanism, how does it hold up? I recently reviewed a board bio that traded density of content for clarity. There was a list of key skills in bullet points. There was a great (and not tiny) photograph. I didn’t have to strain to read the font. Honestly, that experience made me go back to look at my own board bio with critical eyes. Always be ready to learn how others do things better than you.
Your board bio is only the beginning. Once you are selected as a potential candidate for the board, you will have the opportunity to speak about your relevance and skills, and how these align with the company’s needs. You will be able to explore cultural fit with others on the board, and to understand if this board and this company is right for you and vice versa. However that first step, the price of entry to have the conversation, may sometimes be about who you know, but equally, is how compelling your board bio is perceived to be. A good start is half the battle!
Originally published at https://athenaalliance.com on January 19, 2021.