So you’ve done the hard yards in starting your boardroom career. You’ve completed the Future Directors program (perhaps), pulled together a great CV, networked some impressive recommendations and have received good news – a call up to your first board interview.
Congratulations! All your hard work is about to pay off. As long as you can nail that interview… Feeling nervous? Don’t be. Interviews are easy, as long as you prepare, and prepare well enough to leave you feeling confident.
Here are the five steps to creating interview confidence.
Step 1 – Preparation
I harp on about the P word constantly but again, this is the first and most important step. You wouldn’t pitch to a huge client or present to an important audience without practicing it first, right? Well, think of your interview as the same thing. You want to be comfortable with your speech/pitch/value proposition, memorising it enough that you don’t need notes and are still able to speak with confidence and authority.
Preparing in advance will not only give you knowledge, but confidence as well, and these are key to a successful interview. Research the company, its directors, its strategy, risks, opportunities and stakeholders. Make sure you know who will be interviewing you. Learn all you can about them. Read reports, browse the website, even check them out on social media. Is there anyone you can talk to and get the inside track?
Familiarise yourself completely, just don’t wing it.
Step 2 – Bond with your interviewer
Most boards have an inherent sense of purpose. Despite recent press to the contrary, they tend to be committed to making a difference, and want people who are equally committed. A critical part of showing that dedication is understanding your why. Why are you interested in joining that particular board? What’s your motivation? Knowing this will enable you to be authentic, genuine and passionate to the board, and will help you leave an amazing impression.
It also pays to create an emotional bond with your interviewer. Having a shared connection or experience creates a different type of listening, and shows that you’re just like them. Being on the same level bolsters your confidence further, and also gives them an example of how successfully you can interact with and relate to your peers – a prime quality in a board director.
A great way to bring this up in your interview is to ask the interviewer themselves, “why did you join this board?” You might find you have very similar motivations and you can bond over these at a much deeper level.
Step 3 – Think like a board director
If you’re going to talk the talk, you’ve got to walk the walk. So if it’s your first board role, move away from the thought patterns of an employee or even a manager, and start thinking like a board director. This means starting to see the wood for the trees, thinking strategically and starting to govern, instead of operate. Think of any anecdotes you have, and draw from previous experience that demonstrates your ability to think and act like a director.
One of the toughest transitions you’ll make as a new director is switching from operational mode to governance mode (often on the same day). So, put your ‘director hat’ on before you even enter the room. Being able to switch from your day job to your board role is an important ability to have, as boards are often wary about how easily a brand new director will be able to make that transition. Showing them that you can already think like a director will put you one step ahead of the rest.
Mentors, non-executive coaches and a great network are essential in helping you.
Step 4 – Ask smart questions, take smart notes
At some point in your interview, it’s highly likely you’ll be asked something like “So, have you got any questions for us?”. When this comes up, don’t ask anything generic like “How often does the board meet?”. You should already know that, having conducted your due diligence, and it’s also an immediate flag that suggests to the board that you might not be too committed to frequent meetings. Take this opportunity to ask smart questions that will demonstrates your commitment and desire to get involved. A good one is “will there be opportunities to join subcommittees?”
Further, don’t be afraid to go into your interview armed with notes and research. Too often, people think this isn’t okay to do, but it is. You don’t have to memorise everything. No board director goes into a meeting with papers with notes in the margins and questions at the ready. It shows your willingness to prepare in advance, which is essential to future board meetings.
Be succinct with your answers, there will be time pressure (just like a board meeting), so get to the point! Be articulate too, which is another reason why preparation is so important. No interviewee is expected to memorise absolutely everything, and walking in with nothing can hint that you’re unprepared and therefore uncommitted.
Step 5 – Practice with your mentors
If you’ve done your due diligence, by now you’ve probably got mentors. So, if they’re willing, ask them to interview you as practice. They’re likely to be on a board already and thus have interviewee/interviewer experience, so they’ll be able to show you some of the questions you might be asked. Every board and interviewer has a different interviewing style, but by getting them to ask really searching questions you’ll feel much better prepared.
As Paul Smith, co-founder of Future Directors, says (having borrowed the phrase), “It takes a village to raise a board director”. Both you and your mentor are part of that village, so don’t be afraid to reach out for help.
Interviews can be intimidating, but by preparing thoroughly beforehand, you’ll be in a much better position to leave a lasting impression and blow the board’s mind!