January 23rd, 2023

Preparing for a board interview? Athena Alliance helps women leaders prepare for the biggest leaps in their careers – into the C-suite, the boardroom, and beyond.

Nora Denzel is a seasoned board director whose experience is diverse and expansive. She has served on advisory boards, private company boards, non-US boards, non-profit boards, and eight public company boards. She recently sat down with our Athena Alliance community to give us her insider tips for success.

Her number one advice for succeeding in the board interview process…

Remember that the interviews are peer-to-peer.

Try to relax as much as possible. By the time you are interviewing, the board already knows you have the hard skills required. You do not need to prove how much you know; more interesting is how fast you can learn. What is your sense of inquiry? Do you want to be right or do you want to be effective? Understand that the main function of the board is to provide foresight and oversight, you are not interviewing to run the company.

The interviewers are primarily assessing whether or not you’re a cultural fit. Are you somebody who they can spend eight hours a day in a room with? Can you disagree without being disagreeable? Can you focus on getting the job done?

Consider how you answer their questions – highlight your interpersonal skills. Do you have the ability to summarize your experience well? Do you notice the way the other person is responding to you? Have you paced yourself and taken pauses?

If you are interviewing for your first board seat, hone in on your expertise. 

When you don’t have prior board experience, the board is looking to you for your contacts and subject matter expertise. Make sure you can articulate your expertise clearly and articulately. In this case, you don’t want to look like a jack of all trades and a master of none.

You are also interviewing the board – do your homework.

This is a big commitment, it has to be a good fit for you. Consider the other people sitting around the table. What are their backgrounds? Are they a group of people you want to make this commitment to? Do you sense that not only they can learn from you but also that you will be able to learn from them?

Read the company’s latest proxy and be familiar with it before you attend these meetings. The proxy tells you everything: how many compensation committee meetings they had last year, how many board meetings they had last year, how much directors are paid. Don’t ask a question you should already have the answer to if you’ve done your due diligence. They may assume you will not have the time for the board if you didn’t do your research.

Make sure you do have time for the board and that there are no conflicting interests. You will be expected to attend at least 75% of the meetings. They are investing a lot of resources into you in the interview process. It is bad form not to take the board position if it is offered to you because you suddenly realize it doesn’t work with your schedule. If you’re not sure, be upfront (with them and yourself) about your hesitations early on.

Be picky, especially if you’re female or a person of color. Boards are striving for equal representation, yet they still have a long way to go. Don’t operate from a scarcity mentality. If you’ve got one board call, you’ll get more.

Athena Alliance supports women executives as they tackle their biggest career goals by providing the connections, knowledge, and opportunities they need to lead at their highest level of impact. Athena members can view this Salon on-demand by logging into Athena.

Join the Athena Alliance to unlock access to the top board & business education on the market from a variety of experts like Nora Denzel. Every basic membership includes two hours of 1:1 coaching with the world’s finest coaches so you can perfect your board materials, sharpen your interpersonal skills, practice interviewing, and more. Learn more here.

Nora became a full-time independent board director after retiring in 2012 as a key C-Suite Executive at Intuit, retiring as their SVP of Big Data. Prior, she held technical executive roles at HP Enterprise and Legato Systems, Inc (now part of DellEMC), and IBM. For over 10 years she served on the board of AnitaB.org, a non-profit dedicated to increasing the number of women in technology. She is currently on the board of the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD).



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