It is safe to say that every board interview is different. Some are very formal with the entire board, whilst others are more relaxed in a coffee shop with just the Chair or a headhunter. Regardless of the context, it is still an interview in which you will be judged. You can reduce your anxiety levels significantly and put your best foot forward by preparing yourself for the 6 types of board interview questions that are most often asked.
Be well prepared
To begin with, you must know your Unique Selling Point (USP) or Board Value Position (BVP). Your unique set of skills and experience that you can offer boards and the organisations they serve. It should set you apart from the other candidates competing for the board seat you want. Having this clarity also means that you can begin to guide the interview towards the message you want to deliver – and want them to hear.
This statement is essentially your board profile. Others call it a ‘Personal Impact Statement’. Whatever you call it it is a clear statement that leaves the interviewer in no doubt about what your value is at board level. Not having this sort of pitch is going to affect your confidence and success dramatically. Information about how to articulate it can be found here.
Secondly, you must come prepared with three or four examples of success. Ideally, they will be aligned with the characteristics the organisation are looking for but also with the five core elements that a Chair is likely to want to see in a successful candidate.
Once you have these two elements sorted, you need to give some consideration to the interview questions that you will be asked and how to respond to them.
6 Types of Board Interview Questions
There are generally six types of board interview questions you will be asked in an interview. In no particular order, they are
- General questions about you, your background, motivation for the role and the universal question, ‘Why do you want this role?’
- Questions about your Governance Style – what sort of non-executive are you – your approach to interacting with the board and Chair.
- Questions about your Skills and Commercial Acumen and why they are of value at board level.
- Questions about the Research you have done in preparation for the interview – demonstrating you understand what they do, why they do it and the challenges they face.
- Questions covering the Administration – ensuring you understand the remuneration structure, the terms of appointment and the next steps.
- Finally, they will likely give you a chance to Ask Questions of your own.
Below is some guidance on how you might respond to each type of question.
General Opening Board Interview Questions
It is essential you make a good impression on this opening question. You must demonstrate that this opportunity is something you are passionate about and that your skills and experience mean you can contribute effectively. If you did your research, this should be easy to respond to.
My standard opening question to all candidates is, “Can you briefly tell us a little about yourself and what synergies exist between your current or past experience and that which is required by this board?”. You won’t get this one exactly, but you will get one just like it.
It seems pretty easy to respond to, but I am regularly surprised by how many people tell me their life stories as if I have not read their board CVs. Rather than tell me why they should be appointed. This sort of question is really an invitation for you to impress. It is your chance to articulate your research, your passion for the role and organisation, and how your background and experience make you appointable.
Governance Style Questions
There is an array of questions you could be asked here. However, the underlying question is often, “How are you going to interact with the Chair, other NEDs, plus internal and external stakeholders?”. What they really want to know is if you are going to risk their reputation – that of the organisation or the Chair. They want to know how much of a team player you are or if there is a chance you will go off-reservation or butt heads with other NEDs?
In all governance-related questions, my advice is to tread carefully and always err on the side of reverence for the Chair – emphasise a desire to be led by them. Having said that, if you have a strong opinion on a matter, you should always stress that as a NED, it is your role to speak your mind knowing that it is your role to ensure risks are mitigated.
Executive Skills and Commercial Acumen
To address these sorts of questions effectively, it is essential that you are really clear about your value at board level. If you are, the answers to these questions should have been addressed somewhat in your opening pitch.
When asked questions about your technical experience, you need to know that these questions are not really about whether your executive skills are appropriate because, if they weren’t, you would not be asked to attend the interview in the first place. Instead, the questions are really about whether you know how your skills and experience are relevant at board level. The operative word here is board. This is your chance to demonstrate how you will pivot your executive skills to secure results for the board and whether you can deliver that knowledge appropriately.
Questions About the Organisation
Because you carried out in-depth research, these questions should be relatively easy to answer. They may be framed in any number of ways. Regardless, responding to them requires drawing on your online and in-person research. Taking this approach is incredibly powerful.
Conversely, if you have not done your research, you will find it difficult to separate yourself from others being interviewed. In fact, you should expect not to be appointed. It is that serious!
Most administrative questions focus on managing the risk of your potential appointment or avoiding a failed appointment. My favourite is “If offered the role, would you accept it?”.
You may also get asked questions about remuneration and conflicts of interest. The first is less likely to occur. However, should it arise, I recommend you respond that you would be happy to discuss remuneration if offered the appointment.
Concerning Conflict of interest, this is definitely not a topic that can be avoided. If you have a conflict (real or perceived), it must be addressed, and you need to be prepared to state your case as to why it is not a conflict.
The Opportunity to Ask Questions
Towards the end of the interview, you will usually be given the opportunity to ask any questions you may have for the interview panel. Unfortunately, many candidates feel obliged to ask something. It is my experience that these questions add very little to the overall value of their candidacy and risk the opposite.
It is, therefore, my advice not to ask questions – yet. If you have done your research, then you are unlikely to have any quality questions to ask that you don’t already know the answers to. If you haven’t done your research, then you risk asking questions that others may think you should already know the answer to, having a negative impact on your interview.
Here’s a great way to end an interview. Thank you for the opportunity to meet you all today. I have researched your organisation deeply, spoken to your clients, other past NEDs and engaged with your services. As such, I don’t have any questions for you now. However, should I be offered the role then, I would certainly like the opportunity to do further due diligence and ask some detailed questions.
Still feeling overwhelmed by board interview questions?
Mock board interviews are an excellent way to prepare all the 6 types of questions above. I conduct this with my Non-Executive Director Program clients, whom I mentor 1:1 through the entire board search and appointment process. It is also covered in the Board Search Training Series – part of the Executive Membership that Board Direction offers.
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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