Five Essential Questions to Ask in a Board Interview
The questions that you will ask during a board interview will vary based on the board and organisation that you are potentially joining. There are, however, a critical core of questions to be asked regardless of the type of board or organisation.
I’ve narrowed these down to five; however, of course, the more questions you can ask during a board interview, the better. The outcome for you is to end up on a board that you can integrate well with, and that you like and enjoy.
Below I share the questions to ask and why they make my list of five critical questions to ask in a board interview.
1. What are the most significant strategic goals for the organisation over the next 1 -3 years (and 3 – 5 years)?
From your research and due diligence into the organisation, you should have an idea of where the organisation wants to go, and what its main strategic goals are. I always like to hear it from someone on the inside – that gives me a good indication of how well they know what’s happening, where the organisation is pointing, and provides an opportunity for them to demonstrate their passion.
It also helps me to understand where I can be of most value to the board and organisation. A great follow-up question to this is something like “How do you see me contributing best in regards to these priority areas?”
2. Are there any significant financial changes that are set to happen over the next 1 – 3 years (e.g. non-current liabilities becoming current; significant changes in government funding, etc.)?
It’s great to have access to and review the annual reports and/or audited financial statements, but they don’t tell the whole picture of an organisation. Financial statements are past-looking – a snapshot of what has happened, not what is going to happen. They don’t project into the future. That’s why you have to ask a question that does take the future – and the finances – into consideration.
The organisation’s financial position may look rosy now, but will that stay the same going forward? Some ups and downs and adjustments are normal, and the future can’t be predicted for certain; as much as possible you want to know if you’re potentially walking into a financial nightmare that opens you up to liabilities and risks beyond your comfort level.
3. What are the most significant opportunities and challenges facing the industry over the next 1 – 3 years?
As more boards source potential candidates from outside of their industry, you may not be very familiar (yet) with the industry as a whole – who the key players are, what economic indicators are important, what defines success, etc.
The answer to this question should demonstrate the key things that the board needs to be aware of, closely monitor, and be ready to seize opportunities or avoid negative consequences.
After you have the answer to this question, it may be worthwhile reviewing the expertise and capabilities of the other board members and senior organisation leaders to assure yourself that they are in a position to adjust as things change.
4. How would you describe the culture of the board?
Life’s too short to sit on a dysfunctional board. So you want to get a clear understanding of what the culture is like before joining the board. Where possible, it’s worth speaking to more than one board member about this.
If you’re looking for more real-life demonstration of the board’s culture, further questioning may help you to gain a deeper understanding. Ask about: average length of director tenure; why previous board members left the board; how many people apply for board vacancies; board succession planning; and board and director performance reviews (to name a few).
5. How would you describe your leadership style as Chair?
(if not meeting with the Chair, change this to ‘How would you describe the leadership style of the Chair?’)
A good Chair is critical to the effective functioning of a board and the experience you will have on that board. You want to make sure you’re getting a Chair that you can get behind and get along with. You know the leadership styles that you work best with, so the answer to this question largely depends on what and who brings out the best in you.
Coming up with scenarios and asking how they would deal with them is a great way to get a deeper understanding of their true leadership / chairing style (just don’t become an interrogator). Common situations that a Chair would have to deal with on a board include: robust / heated discussions and disagreements; chronic director non-attendance; unequal director workload; split decisions; CEO underperformance; and disgruntled stakeholders (to name a few).
These are my top five critical questions that I will certainly be asking during my next board interview (amongst others, of course). If you’re looking for a more substantial list of board interview questions to ask, this post will certainly help.
As with any board opportunity, you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. Be sure to ask all of the questions you need to get you to a point of comfort and willingness. It’s OK to walk away from an opportunity that doesn’t fully resonate with you.
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