6 tips for coming across well in a Board interview.

6 tips for coming across well in a Board interview.

The best CV, on its own, will not secure you a position on a Board. As Tom Peters, the well-known management consultant, writer and guru puts it so well in a video, you have seven seconds to make a first impression. To make the necessary impact you will need to identify, own and communicate who you are, in a way that is succinct and compelling. This is not inherently difficult, but does require focus of a kind we often don’t make the time for. Below are my 6 tips about how to do this.

Identify what drives you

To have a powerful impact, it is critical to understand who you are, and to be confident of being that person. The resulting authenticity will shine through. William Arruda the high profile branding guru, in the first part of this video, encourages you to ask yourself questions about motivation, which will access your unique characteristics in a way that is exciting and affirming.

An important element of the contribution I make to my clients is helping them to create a definitive and compelling statement that encapsulates who they are.

Here are two examples of such statements:

  • “Strong and playful, committed to human connection and taking her own line"
  • "Walking on sunshine with attitude!"

This is the energy that drives you, the person you can’t help being! So it makes sense to own it, and draw on it when preparing for that important Board interview.


Claudio Fernández-Aráoz a senior advisor to Egon Zehnder and a global authority on Board talent and leadership, in his book Great People Decisions, comments that people rarely prepare enough for interviews. Every Board interview you do will be different; each time you are dealing with a new and unique context. For this reason alone, thorough preparation is essential.

Sometimes it is difficult to know where to start. "Get on Board Australia" has a useful structure here to help you cover all the bases. In addition, if you can use your network to gain more insider knowledge so much the better. Better still, is having a call or a coffee with any of the Board members beforehand, especially the Chairperson. The interview panel are a select group of human beings who all have a particular focus. The greater understanding you have, the better.

Express your passion succinctly

It is not enough to just be in touch with who you are. You need to direct that passion within the context of an interview with a specific Board. All the preparation helps you to know how to present the essential you. In choosing which Boards to apply to, you will already have been thinking about how this particular Board could benefit from your unique set of skills. If you can find a way of briefly stating what you do that speaks to their challenges, they will immediately engage with you.

A senior manager I worked with, who had a 30 years fascination with the technical side of banking transactions at a well known high street bank, was finally able to keep the interest of Board interviewers by boiling down his contribution to that of a chef! He made appetising cupcakes from the antiquated big banking technology, to better meet the demands of customers who have become used to the intuitive functionality of smartphones and tablets. This was a great exercise in learning to let go of some of the detail of his specialism, and think about how his knowledge could make a difference to the whole enterprise. With the addition of a few succinct but well-polished examples, he was able tell the story of his achievements in an engaging but relevant way. He now has an NED role in a FinTech start up where he advises on selling into banks.

Ask questions

A successful interview is a two-way conversation. The objective is to ascertain whether you and the Board in question are a suitable fit for each other. If you are successful, part of your role will be to ask thoughtful questions about how things are done. Doing so in the interview is a great way of demonstrating your contribution, especially if the questions are informed by your previous research. If you can challenge their thinking so much the better. The way they react will tell you something about the Board dynamic.

Taken one step further, when identifying possible Board roles to apply for, rather than waiting for a list of Board roles to appear in your Inbox, you can ask yourself - What would the Board look like that would be ideally suited to me making my unique contribution? You can then seek them out and take the initiative on making contact. If they don’t have a vacancy now, they may well remember the initiative you have shown and get in touch further down the line. This was how Fiona Hathorn of Women on Boards UKfound her first NED role.

Transition to a Board outlook

If you are looking for a Non Executive role and have held an executive position previously, it can be difficult to stand back and "cause leadership", instead of being the leader. This will be one of the Board's concerns, so it will be important to find a way to reassure them of your ability to draw on your emotional intelligence to enable the result, rather than trying to be too ‘hands on’. James Butler has a lot of experience in helping potential NED candidates make this transition successfully. He explains herein more detail what makes a successful NED.

Video yourself and role-play

Finally, Amy Gallo [a regular contributor to the Harvard Business Review] in an article on standing out at interviews suggests enhancing your confidence by videoing yourself rehearsing your answers to likely questions. Role-playing as well, with willing colleagues, can help you take ownership of how you come across by digesting and integrating the feedback you get.

In conclusion

George Bradt, the Chairman of the executive on boarding Group Prime Genisis wrote in a Forbes article that a potential Board interviewing you is really only asking three questions:

  • Can you do the job?
  • Will you love the job?
  • Can we tolerate working with you?

If you can convince them that the answer is yes to all three questions, you have a good chance of "getting the job"! Break a leg!

This is the third in a series of six monthly blogs on how to secure a Board role.

How to secure a Board Role - Understanding the Board context

How to secure a Board Role - Understanding the Board context

How to write a good Board CV

How to write a good Board CV