Board Selection Process
Before we begin looking at the structure and content of the résumé, it is helpful to know who will be reviewing the résumé, and what they are looking for.
For-profit board searches are often conducted by executive search firms, like Spencer Stuart or RSR Partners. Typically, a nominating and governance committee will work with the recruiter to discuss their needs and identify board candidates. The company CEO — and possibly the entire board — will interview and select finalists.
According to an article on Forbes.com, competition for a spot on a corporate/for-profit board is fierce. Since for-profit companies have an obligation to deliver a financial return to shareholders, they seek board members with experience starting, running, and growing successful businesses. Expertise in a specific area of operations — such as finance, mergers and acquisitions, or legal — may also be desirable.
BoardProspect.com, an online community and recruitment platform for existing and prospective board members, is a reputable source for gaining insight on what companies look for and learning about the skills and backgrounds of existing board members. To get a feel for what a specific publicly traded company looks for, it is also helpful to read their annual proxy statement.
With the exception of large, high-profile organizations — like AARP or the American Red Cross — there is far less competition for nonprofit board positions. Like for-profit boards, they look for members with a wide range of skills, but they also want people with expertise in running nonprofit programs, managing community relations, and facilitating fundraising initiatives.
In a 2013 newsletter, BoardWorks International characterized the board selection process as more complex than selecting a job candidate for a management position. When recruiting for a management position, a company is looking for someone with an identifiable skill set to fill a well-defined slot in an organizational chart.
By contrast, board appointments tend to be something of a jigsaw puzzle in which the final picture is not crystal clear and can be assembled in many ways. The challenge is to find someone to appoint on their merits who will also fit into and complementan existing boardroom team. BoardWorks International states in its newsletter that “a particular challenge for selection panels is evaluating applicants who can strengthen the board in ways that were not anticipated before the recruitment process commenced.
Both for-profit and nonprofit boards are legally obligated to follow their bylaws, which may include specific criteria for board size, structure, and composition. Beyond what is specified in the bylaws, the board selection process often involves a more or less formal version of a grid by which to assess and rank candidates. Knowing what is included in this grid will certainly help in knowing what to emphasize on the résumé.
BoardSource, a Washington, D.C.-based organization dedicated to building strong nonprofit boards, created a board recruitment matrix that breaks down a candidate’s areas of expertise, leadership qualities, access to a variety of resources, network/connections, as well as personal style, age, gender, race, and ethnicity. Similar matrices can be found online for assessing for-profit board member candidates.
In an infographic entitled What Makes a Good Board Member?,BoardSource identified these six characteristics:
1) Members create a partnership with the executive director or CEO.
2) They focus on listening, not just participating.
3) A good board member understands the balance between giving the CEO ample room to manage the organization and ensuring that ethical standards are met. They are overseers — not implementers — and they don’t micromanage.
4) They ask bigger picture questions and are not afraid to ask “naïve” questions others may shy away from.
5) Board members serve as ambassadors for their organizations and understand the responsibility that comes with that role.
6) Above all, they enjoy their role. They remain energetic in learning about and helping the organization.
At the top of this list for both corporate and nonprofit boards is the ability to get along well with others, combined with a high degree of self-awareness and emotional intelligence.