Profiles are inherently ego-centric — they are, after all, all about you. But talking positively about yourself and your accomplishments can be challenging, especially for women — even highly accomplished women. Peggy Klaus, executive coach and best-selling author of BRAG! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It, agrees. “Women not only struggle with the concept of self-promotion, but when they talk about themselves and their accomplishments, they are often viewed as unlikeable or pushy. Unfortunately, when it comes to self promotion, women have to navigate a much narrower band of acceptable communication than their male counterparts.”
This becomes especially important when framing yourself for a board position, especially if you’re looking for your first role on a board. “There is a way to talk about yourself in an artful and gracious manner without being obnoxious or turning your audience off, and women have got to learn how to do that in order to secure board positions,” says Peggy.
We’ve pulled together 5 actionable tips to help you prepare from crafting a written candidate profile on the Boardlist to reaching out to your personal network for referrals to being interviewed by a board — all of which will help you highlight your strengths without triggering your inner fraud police or experiencing what Peggy calls brag backlash.
Step One: Evaluate your Experience
Not sure where to start? “Create a Brag Bag,” Peggy advises — “a continuous and easily accessible collection of accomplishments, passions, interests — the colorful details that underscore who you are both personally and professionally. Store your brag bag on your computer, phones or even in three-ring binders.”
Peggy continues, “In my workshops, when I ask participants to share in 30 seconds their proudest job accomplishments over the last two months, a cloud of silence suddenly hangs over the crowd, as they scurry deep in thought and try to figure out what they are going to say. The fact is, with life moving at such a frenetic pace, many people can’t remember what they did a week ago much less two months or two years ago. A brag bag is a great way to capture that information on an ongoing basis and an excellent resource for creating what I call “bragologues” which we will discuss more later.“
To help you get started, Peggy has created the Take-12 Self-Evaluation Questionnaire (customized for candidates of theBoardlist). These questions are designed to help you begin to think about your history; where you have been, what you are doing now, what you have to offer, and what makes you memorable.
Step Two: Identify your Board Superpower
Our board searchers are looking for specific skill-sets and experiences — these superpowers should be called out and clear in your candidate profile. We’ve found that the top five domain expertise desired by those searching for an independent board member on theBoardlist are: e-commerce, digital/social media, international and SaaS. If these are domains you excel in, be sure to highlight them in your profile.
Make it easy for board searchers to find what they’re looking for by translating your wins and experience into board desirability.
Step Three: Craft your Bragologues — Written & Verbal
A bragologue is a short, pithy story that incorporates enticing nuggets about who you are and what you’ve done. When you’re looking for a board position, your bragologues have to be top notch — you must tell an interesting and entertaining story about yourself. If you recite a boring or generic list of facts, you’ll come off as colorless and unmemorable. Keep in mind that your bragologues are never set in stone and change depending on the situation. For example, a written bragologue — like the one you crafted for your profile on theBoardlist — will be longer and more structured than a verbal bragologue that you might use when being interviewed in person by a board or running into someone impromptu who might be able to refer you. Verbal bragologues will be shorter, more conversational, fluid and seemingly spontaneous. Note: do not memorize your bragologue or it will sound stiff and definitely canned.
Mock Candidate Profile: Before & After
Below are two versions of the same profile. The first is the “before” and the second is the “after” — featuring Peggy’s rebooted language using information gleaned from the Take 12 Questionnaire to better frame the candidate’s experiences.
Below are two versions of the same profile. In the before profile (at left) — there were several glaring issues, corrected in the after profile (at right) — more details outlined after the photo.
- Bad Profile Photo: The photo is clearly a snapshot, looks outdated (taken 20 years ago) and includes an arm around the candidate, which makes it look informal and unprofessional. In the after profile photo, the candidate has an updated, professional looking headshot, with nothing distracting in the background.
- Expertise in too many things: While it’s possible that you’re an expert at all of the things, it’s highly unlikely. A board searcher is typically looking for someone with clear functional and/or industry expertise. Pick the 3–4 things you are absolutely the best at and highlight those things.
- Set board interests: Similar to the above, selecting everything in the “board interest” categories makes it difficult to parse. Take some time to think about what you want and be thoughtful in your selections.
- Headline — This is your chance to shout your super power. Use it to call out and summarize the thing that you do better than anyone else you know.
- Summary — So many things wrong with this summary. First, it’s hard to scan because it’s lacking paragraph breaks. Second, the descriptions are bland and lacking in specific examples. Your summary should provide active, unique, details about your experience.
Step Four: Start Writing & Measure Twice, Cut Once
Before posting, be sure to proofread your profile both for grammar/typos and for incomplete thoughts. Cut out anything that is distracting and be sure that you’ve really been thorough. You may also want to ask an honest friend or colleague, who knows your work, to take a look at it and make suggestions. Feedback from a trusted source is especially important, says Peggy, since research has shown that there’s a big gap in the quantity and quality of feedback women receive, especially the higher up they go. From there, start crafting other verbal bragologues imagining a variety of situations.
Step Five: But Wait, There’s More
Great, you’ve crafted a killer board candidate profile and have prepared other possible bragologues, now you can just sit back and wait for the requests to come in. WRONG! You’re not even close to done yet. Now it’s time to let your network know that you’re open to a board opportunity. Unfortunately, women are notoriously lax at networking, and you’ll be at a huge disadvantage if you don’t get out there and talk to people.
Start by making a list of five people who can help you get the word out and a plan for how to reach out to them. Since people often repeat what you tell them, take time to properly frame yourself for board placement success. Make it easy for them by keeping your bragologue short and memorable, and always follow up in writing, recapping what you said with a link to your board profile for more details. Peggy says, “The key is to do the work for them so all they have to do is hit forward.”
In September, as part of our half day board-readiness series, Peggy will give a workshop session on some of the topics mentioned above. Then, later this Fall, she will be teaming up again with theBoardlist to offer 1–3 day small groups intensives with topics to include developing your bragologues, launching your personal branding and marketing plan and Executive Presence, among others. For more information, email email@example.com