Congratulations! You’ve made it to the shortlist for a Board role. How do you go about preparing for a Board role interview?
Most likely, you’ve been selected out of between 50 and 400 candidates for this Board role, which should give you that little confidence boost and feel good already. And there’s something in your experience and style that’s caught the recruiter’s attention. Also remember “Your country needs you – to be a non-exec director” – great article from Martha Lane Fox
Now for the tougher news. You’re likely in a pool of 3 to 10 people who all have excellent seniority and skills. How do you stand out? What are the key elements of preparing for a Board role interview?
First, find out where you are
If you’ve been invited to an interview with the recruiter, you may be on the longlist, which means the Board you’re aiming for hasn’t yet vetted your profile. Most Board level recruitment is quite well codified, with cut-off dates and interview days planned well in advance. It’s completely all right to ask the recruiter where you stand. This is also an opportunity to connect. To show confidence and excitement, be personable and, if you can, find out what they found interesting about you. You can then reinforce the right messages and address areas of perceived weakness. It will also show you are serious, and busy, but willing to collaborate through the process.
Once you’re on the shortlist, you will likely be asked for references. They’re a great opportunity to pick the right people – not only connections who will advocate for you, but who will do so in a way that is relevant to the organization. Try and select one or more sponsors who are senior enough, will make themselves available, and will be credible in the eyes of the reviewers. Though the request will be for character references, you will want someone who has worked with you for at least a couple of years, in recent years.
It’s now time to do your due diligence about the organization
– a key part of preparing for a Board role interview
Do you actually want to work with them?
It’s important that you really are motivated, and to be clear and able to express your motivations. A Board is unlikely to choose someone if they are not sure about your agenda for joining and that you are truly committed to their vision or to what you will stand for as their NED.
What are their strategic challenges?
This is likely to be another question you will need to discuss. Use public information to develop your perspective. It may seem like hard work, but reading their latest reports and following news coverage will make a big difference. It’s also entirely ok to look into your network and try and get an expert perspective from friends working there, past team members or, at least, connections in the same industry.
Are any regulations set to change in the near future, or have they changed recently?
Your target organization may be in a regulated industry. If so, you should brush up your understanding of how it is regulated, key norms and players. That is likely very relevant to the upcoming discussions. Don’t feel like you don’t know – the Board is not necessarily expecting you to be an expert, unless they stated so. Asking “what is your position in regards to the upcoming XYZ?” may help you trigger a good conversation, and show up as an attuned candidate.
Try and find out who the Board and executive team are.
Most websites will have this information, and Boards may be listed on Companies House, and looked up on LinkedIn. You can then understand what’s important to them, what skills may be dominant or missing, and what their agenda are. If new key leaders have recently joined, what will their big bets be? Again, if something triggers your curiosity and you cannot find an obvious answer, you may jot it down into your list of questions for discussion.
After or parallel to due diligence comes the actual preparation.
Make sure you feel comfortable with how you will answer the following questions :-
- What is a Board role to you?
- Why are you interested in joining this particular Board?
- What skills or abilities will you bring?
- Are you willing to commit for the long term, and how will you make time for this new Board role?
- What might you be missing, and how will you address or make up for it?
Review your cover letter.
Ideally, your thoughts are expanding on what you had drafted. If that is not the case, why? Have you found out anything new? A recruiter will look for consistency as a proof of honesty, so if things changed, you may want to point out why. For instance, “while doing due diligence / based on your latest announcement, I…”
Articulate clearly why your experience will be valuable to the organization
or how it reflects their value or a common mission. Don’t assume it is immediately clear, especially once they will be talking with several people. Be memorable in your anecdotes, but make it about this team, not about your past. This will show focus, humility and give them a taste of what they will get by bringing you on Board.
Write down a few key points for review
If the interview is by video, you might even keep your notes handy. In a room, it depends on your level of confidence, but having a notebook with key points could be acceptable depending on context, for reference or completeness.
It’s also completely ok to take notes as you go, or write the names of the people around the table during a panel. If your interview is by video, it’s a good idea to let your interlocutor know you will be taking notes, so they won’t assume you are distracted.
Mark also at least 10 questions
Some will be answered “naturally” or become irrelevant in light of the conversation, and you will always want to have something to ask. The best way to impress a panel is not talking about you, but asking or raising a point about their organization that will make them want to discuss.
Remember to be well rested, arrive on time, and show positivity and engagement. Dress code is likely to be formal, but should also reflect you and the organizational culture, there’s no need to overdo. Shaking hands is usually good if in person, walking around the table. You can do the same digitally if set up allows, with a few friendly comments. Even if time is short, human connection is important. However, do finish on time. If by any chance your meeting starts late, ask how much time you will have, and acknowledge the interviewers will have a busy day.