How to prepare for your Board Interview

If you have followed my previous advice  a board interview is now inevitable. A board interview is different from any previous interviews you have attended, and you must prepare accordingly so that you can ‘dare them not to appoint you’. 

To begin with, you should not expect to be a great interviewee. Most people aren’t because it isn’t something many of us have to do regularly. For many, this is their least favourite part of the appointment process. But it is, to state the obvious, also the most important. If interviews fill you with fear or you are just out of practice, you are in good company. 

Firstly, Congratulations!

If you have made it to the Board Interview it is safe to assume that they (the organisation) think you are qualified to do the role. This is obvious perhaps, but important to note because many in interviews spend time convincing the interview panel of things they are already convinced of. If this is you, you should try to remember that being qualified and experienced enough to do the role does not guarantee an appointment. There is much more to an interview than proving your skills. 

What more does the Board Interview Panel want?

To understand what else you offer and what the interview panel wants to find in a successful candidate, you need to do your research. In part, it will give you an insight into their challenges and allow you to better articulate how your skills and experience can help. However, this research will also build relationships and knowledge – that will mean you can address the element the panel really wants to hear from you.

What is a board is looking for?

Remember, there are primarily five things that Chairs/Appointing Bodies look for in a successful board candidate. They are:

  1. Prior governance experience – having sat on or worked with boards
  2. Executive skills – your value at board level
  3. Networks – that the board can leverage for gain
  4. Demonstrable passion – for the organisation, industry, sector or your contribution
  5. Cultural fit – commonalities (people, places or interests)

The first two are fairly quickly addressed in your application documents. That is not to say they won’t ask you about them in an interview. But assuming they have read your application/CV, they should understand what you offer. As such, I think you can risk being rather cavalier in your responses to these sorts of governance and skills questions – factually state the scope and scale of your experience and why it is relevant to the organisation/board.

The following three elements translate less well in written form. They need to be verbalised to be effectively articulated. They are also often complemented by body language, style and approach. To do this effectively, you must prepare for the interview – that means research.

Preparation will “dare them not to appoint you”.

Don’t rest on your qualifications and skills. Over and over again, I have led board interviews and seen how the most qualified candidates stumble and fail.  They failed more often than not because they were unable to demonstrate why they stood out from other equally qualified candidates. This primarily occurs due to a lack of preparation.

Here are a few things you need to do in preparation for your board interview:

Research the role
Just do it. I know it is a bit of work but if you want to get appointed, research is just so important. I focus on research a lot, not only because this is the element that will make the interview plain sailing but also because it can be leveraged into new opportunities.

By way of example, I recently advised one of my members to do this. He was applying for a paid Aged Care board role. It was one of his target industries. He was well qualified and presented well. But it was a competitive process, and he was scheduled to attend a final panel interview along with two other candidates. He needed to stand out. It was the research that did it; not his Google searches and skills and experience.  Instead, it was the fact that he took my advice, booked a flight and visited the sites of the client. He spoke with their clients, their client’s families, the staff, he ‘kicked the bricks’ of the buildings, he did some mystery shopping and he spoke with past NEDs. He did everything he needed to do to separate himself from his competitors. And it worked. How do we know? Because he is now on the board and reviewed all of the reports from the final panel interviews. He now knows that his competitors were as experienced as he was, but it was the research that he did that made a difference, that impressed them to the point where he was the obvious choice.

You need to make a similar effort – or someone else will.

Understand who is interviewing you
This information is usually given to you by the recruiting organisation. Most of the time, it will be the Chair, but it could also include other board members – perhaps the CEO, a recruiter or an HR specialist. It is essential that you know who you will see during the interview.

Knowing who will interview you means that you can research them. You should consider not only their role on the board or in relation to the organisation, but also where else they might be a board member, what they have done before, what their interests are and, importantly, what commonalities you have – including who you might know in common.

Once you have this information, it is far easier to develop some rapport with the interviewer(s). You do this for two reasons: 

  • Studies have found the more an interviewer likes you, the more they are likely to hire/recommend you (this works for recruiters too) and
  • Remember the fourth and fifth element of what Chairs look for?  Demonstrable Passion and Cultural Fit. That is that they want people that are known by people they know and can demonstrate that they are not a risk and are passionate about what they do. Your research does all this.  It will allow you to reference commonalities and show how connected you are, which will endear you to the interviewing panel members and demonstrate authentic passion.

Last piece of advice
Don’t be ashamed if you don’t like interviews or are no good at them. Few are. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Like everything in life, prior preparation prevents poor performance.

About the Author

David Schwarz is CEO & Founder of Board Appointments – The UK’s leading board advertising and non-executive career support firm. He has over a decade of experience of putting people on boards as an international headhunter and a non-executive recruiter and has interviewed over one thousand non-executives and placed hundreds into some of the most significant public, private and NFP roles in the world.


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