5 Questions Board Members Might Get Asked at Interview

What questions could you expect at your first interview for a board-level role? Find out in our blog



When you are facing your first Board Director role, you are probably curious about the type of questions you will be asked at interview and rightly so.

It is important to note that interviews for corporate board positions are not the same as interviews you will have experienced when you applied for an executive position and for some of you it may be years since you had a formal interview.

That’s not to say the traditional advice about interviews does not apply. You should still tailor your resume to match the needs of the organization, conduct thorough research about the company and make notes of what you perceive a board want from you.

You should make notes about what challenges the company is likely to be facing and what solutions you can offer them. This will help you to create in your mind, a better understanding of the board role you wish to apply for and prepare you for questions that are likely to be asked.

To get you started, we have listed five common questions that independent directors get asked at interview and provided explanations of what employers are looking for in your answers.

What do you know about the company?

This is when all the research you have done on the company, the investors, other board members, financials etc is going to be used. Your due diligence on the company is imperative before you make a decision to join a board.

Simon Laffin, Chairman of Flybe Group plc and Assura plc, says this is a “classic” question put to Independent Directors. The question is a test of your ability to research companies, whether you understand the sector and whether you demonstrate a good work ethic.

It is important that you show a good awareness of the company culture. Even if your values do not always align with the culture of the company, if this is your first opportunity to secure a position as an independent board member, you may have to set your personal feelings to one side and evidence that you can remain impartial.

Interviewers will also want to test your strategic and critical thinking. They will quiz you about where you see the company in five, 10 or 15 years, and what key challenges you expect the business to face in that time.

How you answer will reveal your approach to strategic considerations and whether you can provide solutions for potential flaws in the current business model. It is therefore crucial that you have a strong understanding of the business sector.

Have you influenced change or challenged executives in the past?

Karl George MBE, Managing Director at the Governance Forum, says that interview panels want to “hear examples of your leadership skills and your ability to hold executives to account.” It is important that you can be critical but also have the knowledge to provide strong arguments and suggest solutions. Your role is to provide constructive feedback, provide an independent perspective and scrutinise board papers - a lot of which you will have done as an executive. Therefore, prior to your interview, think about your previous experience and select instances that will translate well to an independent board role.

Interview panels looking to hire independent directors will also often ask a personal question to get a better understanding of the candidate's ethics and personality. Boards will want to gain an understanding of your persona, gauge what kind of rapport you will have with other members of the board and see if you will complement the current composition of their board.

What qualities do you believe you can you bring to our board?

Before attending an interview for a board member opportunity, think about why you are being considered for the role. The recruitment panel (generally the nomination committee, GC, Company Secretary and CEO) will obviously be interested in your knowledge, skills and experience, but they want to bring people on board with a vision that offers value.

Independent board members do not engage in the day to day running of a company, so the board will test your work ethic and commitment. They may ask how hands-on you will be, how much time you can dedicate to the project and what other roles you may currently have. You should clearly tell them about any other appointments you hold and be clear that if you are chosen to join their board that the roles are not a cause for conflict or concern.

Are you able to deliver the energy and commitment required of an independent board member?

As with other aspects of being a board director, the time commitment expected of you varies greatly from organization to organization. It can be anything from a few days per year to several days per week.

You should take the ‘time requirement’ listed by the organization as the days you’ll be expected to attend board meetings. The remainder of your time will be spent preparing for those meetings. According to a recent survey from the IOD, board preparation can take an average of up to 40 hours per year.

Don't be afraid to ask questions about the type of qualities they want to see in a board director. This is your opportunity to turn the tables, ask them what challenges they face and what expertise they are specifically looking for. This will show that you are genuinely interested in the company and the role. It also gives you an insight as to whether you are an ideal candidate, after all, it is a two-way process.

Describe a tough decision you’ve had to make and how you arrived at that decision?

Making decisions is one of the most important functions of a board. As corporate governance becomes increasingly more important, business shareholders, executives and owners want to be assured that a decision made on their behalf is effective, ethical and efficient.

Unlike traditional questions about your work history and educational background, the board committee will ask behavioural questions like this to better understand how you would respond in certain situations. Board members can also be held personally liable for the consequences of their decisions, so it is important you can demonstrate you’re confident enough to make a well-informed decision.

There will be many instances in your executive career where you’ve had tough decisions to make and this is the perfect opportunity to reference one scenario. The board will want to see evidence of what went into your decision-making process, including any thoughts you had, the sources of information you looked at and how you weighed up the evidence.

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