August 24th, 2021

When it comes to board interviews, there is no single process. Every board interview and search will be different—which may mean meeting individually with the company’s CEO or even meeting individually with every board director. 

Athena works with women leaders on their journey to the boardroom, creating their board search strategy and reframing their leadership skills to prepare them for board service. Below, we share tips for women leaders to prepare for board interviews, as well as common mistakes first-time directors often make in the process.

An experienced board director’s tips to prepare for board interviews

In her guide to land a board seat, Athena member Meg Crofton (board director at Tupperware Brands, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, and HCA Healthcare) shared the following insights on preparing for board interviews…

Board interviews are very different from interviews for executive operating roles. They are looking for a different set of behaviors and indicators for successful board service.

During the process, expect to meet with the Nom/Gov Committee, the  CEO, and the rest of the board. Interviews are often many-to-1 (meaning you could be talking over dinner or Zoom to several sitting directors at once) and it could be several interviews if all the board members want to meet you. Think of it as your opportunity to see the board from many different angles, giving you the chance to compare and contrast what you hear from many viewpoints. 

To prepare, set up mock interviews to practice with others. Do research on the company and its competitors as well as individual board members and management to prepare your questions. They will be evaluating you on what you ask of them as well as what you answer. One of the roles of a board member is to ask questions, so you need to show you can do that in interviews. 

It is important during the process to be your authentic self. Through this process, you are seeking the right fit between the board and yourself.

Tips from Athena: What to expect in the board interview process

The director selection process can be as simple as a CEO or VC doing a single interview and making the decision, or as all-inclusive as individual interviews with every member of the board then gaining a consensus or unanimous vote. Even in a public board, if the CEO is in good standing, the board is likely to value his/her assessment highly and s/he will likely have veto power.

Your first encounter will likely be a phone call and will serve as an opportunity for you to provide your value proposition. Knowing as much as you can about what the board is looking for in their new director is important. What are the skills missing on their board? What are the specs for the experience they need?

As you progress in the interview process, conversations usually focus on whether or not you are a cultural fit for the board. Are your personality and approach to discussion appropriate for this group of directors and the CEO?

The attitude you bring to the table will offer the board insights into the characteristics you will bring as a board member. Are you positive? Are you strategic in the questions you ask? Are you clear-headed? How will you contribute and add value?

Assessing how you will fit in with the board and how you perceive the culture of the company and board will be a huge part of your interview process. Once they understand your value and move you forward in the process, culture fit is the key driver.

Common mistakes in the board interview process

As Athena works with companies to fill their open board seats, we’ve seen a pattern in the feedback when companies pass on applicants after the interview. Here’s what we most often hear:

  • The candidate did not seem to have done enough research to fully understand the company, its published strategy, and its business. 
  • The candidate treated the process like a job interview. They ran through their history and spoke about their accomplishments as an operator.
  • The candidate failed to illustrate strategic inquiry and the ability to collaborate at an advisory level as an overarching steward of business. 

Ready to launch your board journey? Join Athena to gain access to the learning, network, and support you need to reach the boardroom.



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