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What I want versus what I offer.

It was ten years ago around this time of year when Veronica, a new grad, asked for help with her resume and cover letter. Of course, Anne said she would be happy to review the materials and made a date for Veronica to come to her office to discuss her feedback.

I watched as Anne printed the documents, started to read the cover letter, and reached for a yellow highlighter. When she had finished with yellow, she reached for an orange highlighter and marked some more.

When Veronica arrived, Anne opened the conversation, “I am sure you already know that prospective employers are looking for the best candidate to perform a specific role; they are going to enter a “contract” with you where you contribute to the success of the organization and in exchange, you get paid.

Veronica nodded. Anne went on, “I read your cover letter to learn what you would offer to an employer. And I highlighted in yellow every time that “I”, “me” or “my” appeared. Then I highlighted in orange every time “you” or “yours”, meaning the potential employer, appeared. Since this is your opportunity to demonstrate the difference you can make to the organization, what should the ratio be?”

Veronica shrugged. Anne held up the cover letter (yes that one on the right) with her highlights. Veronica reached for the document and started counting … then she looked up and said, “Five mentions of “you” or “yours” and twenty-eight mentions of “I”, “me” or “my” that's nearly six mentions of me for every one mention of them. Now, I get it.”

Fast forward to yesterday, Anne and I attended a fabulous session about Board Membership; the audience was comprised of senior women leaders, many of whom aspire to join Boards. The session included a fireside chat with Michelle, an experienced and respected corporate Board member who has been on both sides of the recruitment process.

She told us that when recruiting, she was looking for Board candidates who would bring certain experience, expertise, skills, and knowledge to the role.

Anne looked at me with a puzzled look, “Why is she telling us that?”

Michelle went on to say that women in particular often come to the interview equipped with all the reasons they want to be on a Board … “I have time”, “I want to stay sharp and current”, “I want to learn”, “I want to expand my experience.”

“Wow,” said Anne. “That’s the same message I gave Veronica all those years ago. The process of applying for membership on a Board, even a position that offers no compensation (e.g., Not-for-profit), is no different than applying for a job. The Board wants to know how you will contribute to the success of the organization. Why should they care about what we will get out of it?”

If we want to make headway in bringing gender diversity to Corporate Boards, we need to be prepared to bring our passion for the organization as well as the role and highlight the knowledge, skills, abilities, and expertise we bring to the table!


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