The board interview – it’s a key step in assessing the fit between a board of directors and a potential new board member. But for both parties – the board and the candidate - it’s so much more than that.
Last week The Savvy Director blog focused on the ‘fit’ – or lack thereof – between a board and potential new directors. We advised using behavioral questions to uncover candidates’ fit with the board. And we provided some questions for potential directors to help determine the board’s fit with them.
So let’s say you’ve thought hard about it and you’ve got a pretty good feeling about the fit between you and a particular board – good enough to take part in an interview, at least.
What should you expect? What should your goal be? And how should you prepare?
We’re going to try to answer those questions in this week’s blog.
Boards differ markedly in their approach to identifying, screening, and interviewing director candidates. I’ve seen some that leave the whole process to a nominating committee, or maybe one or two directors, or even just the board chair. I’ve even heard tell of some boards that leave it to the CEO or Executive Director. (Do I need to say that I disapprove of that approach?)
Some boards use a multi-step approach that starts, perhaps, with a casual lunch with one or two directors, followed by an interview with a committee, and culminating with an interview with the full board. Or they may start the process with a search firm which performs the screening and conducts a preliminary interview before you even get to talk to a board member.
You should find out in advance what approach your prospective board is using, and what the steps will be. Your preparation for a small, casual lunch or coffee might be quite different from that you would take for a full board interview.
These days, the interview is just as likely (or maybe more likely) to take place online as in-person. Either way, treat the experience the same way you would any job interview. Keep to the schedule, allow enough time, and avoid interruptions.
Once again, boards differ a great deal in how they conduct interviews. You will easily recognize the approach that’s being used within a few minutes of the interview starting.
At one extreme is the structured interview. I’ve participated in some very disciplined, structured interviews over the years. Using this approach, a list of questions is drawn up ahead of time, each interviewer is assigned a couple of the questions, and copious notes are taken.
This type of interview is usually quite comprehensive, but it risks becoming a ‘check the box’ exercise. It can be difficult as a candidate to really convey who you are and what value you bring to the table with this approach, because you are locked into the pre-arranged sequence of questions and responses. Watch for your opportunity toward the end when you are asked something like, “Is there anything you’d like to add?”
At the other extreme is an unplanned free-for-all where each board member acts on what is most important to them and asks whatever comes to mind. As you might guess, this approach can leave the board with information gaps. But from the candidate’s point of view, it’s easier to create opportunities to have their say.
The board’s interview goals influence how they conduct the interview and the questions they ask. Below are some questions you might expect, grouped by purpose.
Let’s turn the table and address what goals you, as a candidate, might have.
For example, below are some common goals you might try to achieve. There are likely many others that are personal to you. You should give this serious thought.
Your questions should flow easily and logically from the goals you’ve set. You might want to categorize them into buckets such as the ones below. Here are just a few questions to get you started. Refer to the ‘Resources’ section for more.
Before they ever meet you in person (or online), board members will take a look at your resume. So, make sure that it’s focused on board work. A pet peeve of mine is that would-be directors do not make the effort to customize their resume or CV so that it highlights their board-related experience. I suggest that you read the article ‘7 Steps to Create a Killer Board CV’ (see the link under 'Resources' below) to get a handle on what a board-focused resume should look like.
And don’t be surprised if the board checks out your LinkedIn profile too. Does it need updating to be more board-focused?
Find out more about the organization by doing some preliminary research. At the very least, check out the company website – often you will find the most recent financials as well as information about the board and the management team. Not only does this show the interviewers that you are serious about the opportunity, but it will save time in the interview if you already have some basic information.
Be clear about the value that you would bring to the board. I can’t emphasize this enough. Put it down in writing. Hone it into an elevator speech. Practice it in the mirror. It will build your confidence and help allay your nervousness.
Anticipate the questions you might be asked and consider your responses. Have a few personal stories in your back pocket to illustrate how you have handled difficult situations in the past.
Put together your own list of questions and bring it with you. When an interviewer asks you if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to refer to your prepared list – it demonstrates that you spent time preparing. Don’t be surprised if most of your questions have been answered during the course of the interview.
Remember to ask about next steps and when the board will make their decision. Keep in mind that sometimes the time lag between the interview and your notification can be quite lengthy. This is especially true of public sector boards such as government agencies, councils and commissions.
For further support on your journey to joining a board, I’d suggest you listen to Alexander Lowry’s weekly podcast ‘Boardroom Bound’ (see the link in ‘Resources’ below.)
And finally, please accept this free download of DirectorPrep’s Ten Great Questions about Joining a Board. I hope it helps!
Leave a comment below to get in on the conversation.
Scott Baldwin is a certified corporate director (ICD.D) and co-founder of DirectorPrep.com – an online hub with hundreds of guideline questions and resources to help prepare for your next board meeting.
Share Your Insight: What’s your favorite question to ask a candidate at a board interview?