Karen Kosiba Edwards On Joining A Corporate Board
January 27, 2022
Karen Edwards has 30 years of experience consulting with boards, CEOs and government on a range of strategic matters. She draws on her experience serving as a public company director and as a C-level executive to help clients build diverse, high-performing leadership teams and boards of directors.

Her deep expertise in all areas of finance and banking is a major asset to her clients. She is a member of Women in Technology’s (WIT) Leadership Foundry, Women Corporate Directors, the former President of the CFA Society of Washington, and Treasurer of Women in Housing and Finance. Here, she shares what it takes to join a corporate board.

Where would interested parties source information on which companies are looking for new board directors and what their needs are?

Start by finding out what boards are looking for. Go online to a company's investor section - sometimes it says investment relations. Then look at SEC filings, the one you want to find is the proxy statement. It comes out once a year. This statement tells whether it's soliciting votes. Usually, you can see if they voted for new directors or if they revote every year. You'll also get mini-board bios which can give you some good signals about what's essential to include in your board bio.

Ideally, a board will also have a competency matrix. It's a map of the skills and competencies that already exist on the board so you can see where the concentrations are and where the holes are.

How can you best position yourself as a viable board candidate?

Lead with what your expertise is. If you're a financial expert, put that out there, put it on your LinkedIn, put it in your board bio. Maybe you've led transformative change. Maybe you are an expert in cybersecurity or digital marketing. Think of the advantages you have over the other candidates.

Also, if you have spent a fair amount of time preparing board materials or sitting in board meetings, that can be useful to mention. Boards are risk-averse about who they're going to invite into their foxholes. They're nervous about beginning a search where they are opening themselves up to considering someone no one else on the board knows. They will derive comfort from knowing that at least you’ve spent time in the boardroom. So if you have that experience, you need to highlight it.

Lead with what your expertise is. If you're a financial expert, put that out there, put it on your LinkedIn, put it in your board bio.

What does a strong board bio look like?

First of all, you want it to be attractive and concise. I got one recently, and it had a lot of different colors, about five different fonts, and many different columns. It took me probably half a dozen times of picking up this board bio and then putting it down because I didn't know how to skim it, I didn't know where to focus my eyes. My advice is to keep it simple. That's my preference, and I don't think I'm alone. You want it to be both scannable and able to draw the reader in. If you can briefly tell a story, that's nice, but you want it to be scannable so that somebody can very quickly look at it and latch onto something.

I think having a photo is nice these days. Humans like to look at pictures of other humans. It is a way to draw people in, and it's become much more common. You want to use metrics in describing your accomplishments. And you want to showcase any brand names that are a seal of approval, where you‘be worked, organizations you belong to and any board experience you have.

And then you're going to give a quick summary in one or two paragraphs of your past experience. The first paragraph is normally going to be what you're currently doing. It's not mandatory, but it's always nice to highlight your education and any publications or speeches to let people know that you're a thought leader and well known in a particular subject area. Make sure to include your contact details because even though you might have sent a resume along with your board bio, there's no guarantee that the two won't get separated. Assume that is the case and ensure people can always find you easily.

How does a board resume differ from your regular resume?

It's much shorter. It's kind of a teaser. It might be three paragraphs. And it is not normally a chronological set of bullet points. So it's more of a story, you pick out several points that you want to get across, and you redesign it, depending on who you think the audience is going to be.

Are there ways diverse candidates should shift or supplement their board bios?

I would put a picture on because diverse candidates are in demand. So you want to capitalize on that. Bring everything you've got, don't leave it up to their imagination. All boards are looking for diversity today. If they're not, they should be. I think over 90% of them are. Make it easy for them.

What's the significance of being financially literate to get on a board?

I promise you that a lot of guys sitting on boards today are not very financially literate. But I suggest you at least be comfortable. If you're not comfortable, go take a class or start reading annual reports, get one of your finance friends to sit down and go through it with you. You will not only be more comfortable, but you'll get more interested. Familiarity breeds interest.

Does age matter? Will younger candidates still be considered?

There's no age that's too young to begin looking at a board. Some people have managed to do it quite early in their careers. It is about effectively highlighting your skills and networking your way in. I think having some younger directors is essential if companies are going to be successful.

Part of the dynamic that's working against us and working against having a more vibrant, productive country is that some of the retirement ages have been raised. People don't often leave boards voluntarily. They are often determined to stay on forever, and things can get stale.

It helps to think of networking as helping people. Think of how you might be able to connect people.

What's a good way to approach networking to get your name out there?

It helps to think of networking as helping people. Think of how you might be able to connect people. When I have the opportunity to meet someone, in my mind, I'm always thinking, "oh, this person really would benefit from knowing someone else I recently ran into." So I'll put them together.

Or maybe you've got some expertise that you realize would be helpful to them, and you send a follow-up note. If you think of it more as going out and trying to be helpful to others it makes the conversations more natural.

Many of us hate to ask for help. But flip the tables, see if that makes you more comfortable. Because each one of you has so much to offer, we all have different backgrounds and skills. And everybody can use a hand, and you may be the person to offer that hand, and you will be remembered for that.

How does the process of joining a board work?

They're all differently. The board members interviewing you may or may not exactly know what the process is. They're very formal about it in some cases, but they can be pretty casual in other cases. So it's fair to keep asking the person who introduced you questions.

Lastly, treat it like a job interview. Look everybody up and find out as much as possible about them because they're not going to share very much. In most cases, they're going to assume that you know who they are, so do your due diligence.



/*video overlay play button*/