Board Candidate Interviews
By Norbert Schwarz
Interviewing prospective directors requires preparation. Each candidate will have unique qualifications and characteristics having potential benefit to the company. While it is difficult if not impossible to fully understand a candidate’s qualifications in a two or three hour interview, much can be determined if the right questions are asked.
The interview is only one, very important, element of the selection process. In addition to an in-depth interview, members of the selection committee gain valuable insights by visiting the candidate’s place of business and, interacting with the candidate in a social setting.
The initial interview often takes place on the telephone or during a brief visit with the candidate by a member of the selection committee. The primary objective of this meeting is to follow up on an individual being considered as a potential candidate. In this meeting, the company representative, (often the Chair, CEO or selection committee contact) would introduce the company to the prospect and determine whether the prospect has an interest in being considered for candidacy on the board. The company representative should be prepared to discuss the board’s mission, expectations of board members, the composition of the board, board compensation, and the selection process for board members. Unless the company representative feels that the process with this prospect should not proceed further (lack of interest, conflicting culture, conflict of interest, etc.) the visit should conclude with a request for the prospect’s resume in return for a written profile of the company and the board.
After receiving background information on prospects, the selection committee would determine who best fits pre-determined qualifications for board candidates. The selection committee would then invite the candidates to the company for an extended interview. If the Chair and/or CEO are not on the selection committee, they should be scheduled for a portion of the interview process with each candidate. The selection committee should review each candidate before his or her interview to strategize the interview process. While all committee members are free to participate in the interview, one individual should be designated as facilitator to direct the interview process.
Questions designed to probe qualifications should be developed for each candidate as well as questions on experience and perspective on key issues and opportunities the company is facing. Wherever possible, questions should be open ended, allowing the candidates to fully express themselves. While questions may be prepared in advance, the interview process should be free flowing and should not give the impression of an overly structured question and answer session. The overall atmosphere should be one of a relaxed but professional dialogue. It would be the role of the facilitator to see that the proper atmosphere is maintained.
Tell us about your business. (What will he emphasize? The team, his/her personal contribution, markets, financials, growth, etc? Does he/she have a vision for the business? Has the company experienced growth? What is the overall condition of the company now? How are decisions made in his/her company?)
What are some of the challenges you have had in building your successful business and how did you address them? (Look for experience gained from failures as well as successes. How comfortable is he/she in making difficult decisions?)
How would you describe your management style? (Is he/she a hands-on loner? A teacher? A facilitator?)
Tell us about your experiences on other boards. (Has he/she served on other boards? Were they community boards, business boards? What form of business – manufacturing, service, professional?)
What if anything would you have changed regarding those boards?
In your opinion, what are the characteristics of a good board? (Look for what the candidate deems important within the board process. How involved should a board be? Also look for the level of challenge and participation the candidate considers desirable in the board setting. Will the candidate address the accountability of the board or whether the board should be evaluated for effectiveness? A question about board succession might be also appropriate here, i.e. in your opinion, what should determine the tenure of board members?)
How would you envision your role as a board member with shareholders? With the CEO? With other executive or senior managers? (How do the candidates envision their responsibilities to shareholders and management? To what extent is the Board responsible for the performance of the company? Of the CEO?
What would be the process by which the Board would hold the CEO and management accountable?) What would you like to know about us? (Look for what the candidate prioritizes in asking questions? Strategic direction, opportunities, risks?)
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