Avoid these Common Board Interview Mistakes

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A successful board interview requires succinct but powerful responses that evidence your success. After interviewing countless board candidates, I have put together some mistakes that you should avoid. Even strong candidates fail to be appointed because of these common and avoidable board interview mistakes. 

The most common Board Interview mistake: Not understanding why you were selected for the interview

This is a big one. It is essential to understand why you were chosen for an interview over and above your competitors because, in doing so, you can craft an interview style and content on the things that will get you appointed. 

Regardless of which role you applied for, you were selected for an interview because you had the skills and experience they were looking for. That might seem obvious, but it is important to grasp. That means your interview should not be focused on trying to convince the interviewer(s) that you have the skills to do the job but rather that you should be appointed. 

To avoid a poor board interview, you need to consider what the panel will be trying to achieve during the interview. More often than not, it is about finding someone who can evidence their success if appointed, is someone they trust, who shares the same passions they do, and is a strong cultural fit. 

Going into any board interview with this perspective will mean your focus will move away from trying to convince them that your skills and experience are valuable to instead trying to convince them that you are valuable.

Other common Board Interview mistakes

Lack of preparation

The most common board interview mistake is being underprepared. So, if you haven’t heard me say it already – preparation is absolutely key. In my previous article, I extensively covered how to prepare for a board interview.

Over answering

The second biggest interview mistake is that candidates often speak too much. This is usually because they are nervous or because they think they won’t get appointed unless they tell the interviewer absolutely everything they have done. Over answering is not in itself a killer, but it does impact your appointability. Board meetings don’t run forever, so the ability to succinctly get your point across is important. Over answering does not provide the confidence that you can do this. 

Look for cues. You will know if this is you when the interviewer stops writing notes and puts their pen down. At this point, just stop talking! Just stop. 

Under answering

Another poor board interview aggregation is candidates assuming people have memorised the content of their CV therefore and not providing sufficient detail when required. This is not uncommon and results in the candidate seeming aloof or arrogant. Make sure you provide examples of what you have done and why it was successful. You need to come across as informed and engaged.

You can avoid over and under answering by knowing the 6 types of interview questions you are likely to be asked.

Presenting poorly

55% of one’s first impression is influenced by your personal presentation and nonverbal communication. There are a number of personal traits that candidates have that can negatively impact your appointability. Traits like bad posture or poor clothing selection can negatively influence the outcome of a board interview. Many might say that this should not matter. However, if you consider how important reputation is for the Chair and the recruiting individual/organisation, you will understand why it counts more than you might think. If your clothing does not reflect positively, you risk the reputation of those who might appoint you. If this is the case, they simply can’t recommend you to be appointed. 

As an example, one of the boards I was recruiting for interviewed a woman who wore a dress with revealing cleavage. It led to a comment from one of the (female) board members about the appropriateness of her outfit. This was enough in the end for them to choose one of the other candidates instead of her. In another example, I was involved in an interview with a gentleman who clearly had lost a lot of weight. He looked fit, but his old suit (which was too big now) looked ridiculous. It meant he was less recommendable than other equally qualified candidates because he presented poorly. This was enough for the panel to select someone else in a competitive environment. 

So what should you focus on in a board interview?

Providing succinct and compelling responses that prove your experience and skills is not enough and won’t guarantee an appointment. Focus instead on the added value you will bring. The relationships you bring or have access to and their value, your engagement with the industry and sector they operate, your passion for the company, what you do, or what the company does. All of these elements can be manufactured or at least further emphasised before an interview through the research you have conducted.

The final thing to focus on is your success. That means entering an interview with a list of 2-3 explicit successes you have ideally had at board level. Examples might include positive examples of how you have generated a positive situation in a tough board environment, the change you have been able to influence (and its outcome) at board level, or simply evidencing how your tenure on the board was associated with the growth or profitability of the company. 

Preparation & articulation is not everything

A successful board interview will often find its basis in strong preparation, being well researched and being able to articulate the details of your success. This, combined with having engaged with the organisation, getting to know how it operates intimately and becoming known by some of the influencers around it, will mean that you can demonstrate a strong cultural fit, a genuine passion for what they do and as such, are more proactive, engaged, connected and better informed and appointable than your competitors. In totality, that will impress the Chair and lead to a more successful interview.

Board interviews are challenging. If you want more guidance on how to be successful in this regard, we offer a step-by-step guide to finding board vacancies, writing applications, getting interviews and getting appointed in the Board Search Training Series included as part of our (tax-deductible) Executive package.

Related Articles

How to prepare for a Board Interview

The 6 Types of Board Interview Questions you should expect

Why the Chair is the Key to a Board Appointment

In-Person board research can set you apart from ALL the other candidates



About the Author

David Schwarz is CEO & Founder of Board Direction – Australia’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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