5 Steps To Nailing Your Board Director Interview

MAY 20, 2020

Making a Great Impression That Leads to a Resounding "Yes" (from both sides of the table)

(Originally appeared in the May 20th, 2020 'Across the Board' publication, a Board Director, Board Advisor, C-Level, and Business Leader publication reaching 26,500+ exceptional business leaders in over 70 countries with articles focused on leadership, strategy, and governance topics - sign up here)

Ok, so you packaged yourself properly, submitted your impressive Board Document along with your Board Bio, avoided sending a resume or CV, and got the call to come in - they are interested in potentially having you join their Board! This first triumph of getting to an interview is arguably the toughest hurdle to make it over, so you definitely did something right and likely avoided many of the common Board Candidate pitfalls. Now, you know there are commonly multiple other candidates... Do you simply wait for the scheduled interview date and just show up for a discussion? Are there specific questions of importance that you not only want answers to, but simultaneously convey that you are on the same wavelength? What type of questions should you be prepared to answer? These are all important questions and it is imperative that you are prepared to make a solid impression. As some say in the Board placement world, you want to humbly dare them not to appoint you!

First, understand that a Search Committee interview is not the same as a one-on-one interview, and many Board Candidates who are quite effective in individual interviews can lose their footing in a group setting. Some Board Candidates find Search Committee interviews much more formal, structured, and intimidating as compared to one-on-one interviews, with the added challenge of lessened opportunities of showcasing their personality. With some preparation, and knowledge of the different dynamics, most can be successful in both environments. (Join my 'Becoming an Exceptional Board Director Candidate' Coaching Course for all the insights on this topic)

An important concept to remember is that all interviews, including Board interviews, should be a two-way street. It is not just solely about a Board deciding if a candidate is a correct fit for them, it is also about if the Board is a correct fit for the candidate. All too often, a Board Candidate who hasn't done their due-diligence is flattered, excited, and will immediately respond "yes" when given the thumbs up to join a Board, only to find out within a 6 month period that it was a big mistake. "Board dynamics, matched values, cultural fit, operating procedures, time commitment expectations, risk tolerance, and previous risk exposure are just a few of the important areas needed to ensure a successful Board Candidate fit,"states 
Martin Rowinski, CEO of Boardsi"When this due diligence is avoided or inadequate, the chances of a mismatched appointment for the Board and the Board Candidate increases greatly." Mismatched appointments can lead to a Board’s stagnation and missed opportunities in the important areas of strategy and governance.

To ensure mutually successful Board seat appointments, evaluation and interview focus (above and beyond the typical 'getting to know you and the Board' questions) should always include these 5 concept areas: 

1) It's a Question of Values: At its core, the positioning of Board & organization values with Board Candidate values is the most important alignment...
  • From a Board Candidate's Viewpoint: Exhibit your personal values to show how they are in direct alignment with the Board's & organization's values. The principle of initially laser-focusing the interview discussion on  your personal values superimposed over the organization's and Board's values is beautiful in its simplicity. It allows for a deep look into your psyche and the reasons for what you do - with integrity and purpose. In support of the concept that Board Directorship is a formal career and discipline, this secret weapon line-of-discussion, when delved into early on in the discussion, can save much time and effort in evaluating and selecting the proper Board to join. Savvy search & placement companies, as well as mature Nominating Committees, understand that aligned values are the foundation for a strong culture, and the Board owns this important responsibility. Values = Culture = Lower Organization Risk.
  • From a Board's Viewpoint: As I mention in my book, 'Across The Board:  The Modern Architecture Behind an Effective Board of Directors,' "...when interviewing Board Candidates, first and foremost look for passion and interest in the organization’s values, vision, and mission. I have personally become wary of Board candidates who, in their first 3 - 5 questions or comments, don’t directly address the company’s values or simply never address them at all throughout any discussions. This is a bellwether pointing to a lack of fundamental governance knowledge and almost certainly a seed for future misalignment of interests." 
2) Enhance The Fit: Show exactly where and how you will elevate the Board...
  • From a Board Candidate's Viewpoint: Most Boards have a fairly good idea of the skill set and experience level they desire in a Board Candidate (commonly described as 'vertical considerations' or 'Sphere of Influence'), but sorely lack in the understanding of how a new member can enhance the dynamic and depth of the overall Board (commonly described as 'horizontal considerations' or 'Planes of Congruence'). This is where you, as a Board Candidate, can shine by performing a short study of not only the existing Board's expertise (vertical) makeup, but also the Board's depth and diversity (horizontal) makeup highlighting exactly where you envision your enhanced fit, potentially filling some gaps unknown even to the Board. Spend the time to outline exactly how you will enhance the Board in both of these areas and bring it up during your interview - a valuable tip pioneered by Mike Lorelli. (For more information on proper structural Board components which directly forecast a Board's future success, see chapters 8, 9, and 10 in my book)
  • From a Board's Viewpoint: Appoint Board Candidates who come prepared to discuss exactly where they know they fit and have already envisioned themselves as part of your cohesive team, able to enhance strategy, governance, and decision making at a deep level. It is not about how they 'would' fit, it is about how they 'do' fit - look for this important discussional perspective when interviewing viable Board Candidates.
3) Strategy and Governance Indivisible: Even the most well-intentioned Boards and Board Candidates can miss the mark on this, but they don't necessarily have to...
  • From a Board Candidate's Viewpoint: One of the biggest exposure areas for an otherwise viable Board Candidate is the lack of interrelational understanding between strategy and governance. All too often, a Board Candidate's claim in an interview of being highly adept in governance is followed with clear lack of strategic understanding when probed more deeply. This can be an immediate showstopper with 'interview over' signals quickly appearing. Board Directors must be knowledgeable and skilled in both governance and strategy along with how they directly interrelate. After all, you can't govern the components of a robust strategy (the goals which include the 'what' & 'why' and the strategy which includes the 'how') if you don't know exactly what strategy is and how it is related to proper governance. Deeply prepare yourself for questions in this area, inclusive of researching anything published on the organization's strategy, prior to the interview. The ability to make real-life references during Board interviews goes a long way.
  • From a Board's Viewpoint: Taking the approach of alternating questions between strategic vs. tactical instances as well as strategic vs. governance scenarios can be very helpful in understanding a Board Candidate’s experience and abilities in the leadership space. See if they get the hint that you are switching gears and able to account for this in their responses. Always confirm that the level of Board Candidate leadership accounts for the ‘noses in, fingers out’ approach to ensure proper Board understanding and involvement.
4) The Learning Mentality: The smartest walking among us are lifelong learners...
  • From a Board Candidate's Viewpoint: There is no bigger turnoff in the Board Candidate interview process than a know-it-all. It can usually be spotted within the first 4-5 minutes of an interview, so remember the fine line between confidence and lack of mindfulness. Feel free to showcase the areas where you are an expert, but don't forget to convey the fact that remaining an expert in your vertical, and as a next-gen Board Director, is even more important through continuing education and certification programs.
  • From a Board's Viewpoint: An ideal Board Candidate is searching for ways to increase knowledge and have an opportunity to apply it. Boards that foster and sponsor a learning environment not only raise applicable knowledge that can be applied to the organization, but indirectly elevate camaraderie between Board Members throughout the process. Look for Board Candidates who inherently know this, allocate ample time for ongoing education, and haven't forgotten that the current accelerating speed of change makes it a requirement for effective Board Directorship.
5) The Other Intelligence: Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence (EQ) are equally important for boardroom success... 
  • From a Board Candidate's Viewpoint: Hopefully your high IQ will come across in a humble way during an interview. However, a team, especially a Board, simply doesn't work well when even one individual lacks Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence (EQ). Mindfulness is defined as 'the process of bringing one's attention to the internal experiences occurring in the present moment.' Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is defined as 'the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.' It is imperative to show these traits and your unwavering commitment to these important relationship-building aspects in your interview. They are foundational to the inner workings and relational dynamic of any Board.
  • From a Board's Viewpoint: To get viable Board Candidates to the 'yes' stage, focus some of the interview on not only evaluating the candidate's Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence (EQ), but also demonstrating how the Board strives to foster this type of behavior and environment. Candidates will realize that if they are being held to this standard, the existing Board is currently and will continue to be held to this standard, too. 

A proper Board Document and Board Bio is the first step for a Board Candidate in representing all 5 of the mentioned important interview areas and is commonly the first touch for a Board or search company to perform their vetting, but the interview stage is where the interpersonal components on both sides are first put to the test - hence the all-important two-way street. Alignment on both sides of the table can make for a great series of interviews leading to a mutual 'yes' and long-term success.

What important aspects will you include in your Board Director interview?

Reach out directly to Mark A. Pfister to become an exceptional Board Director Candidate or to create your Board's effective Nominating Committee processes with his Individual Coaching and Consulting & Advisory offerings.