There are only three true interview questions. Every question you have ever been asked or have asked others in any interview is a subset of one of these three:
- Can you do the job?
- Will you love the job?
- Can we tolerate working with you?
In general, the only three true job interview questions are all about strengths, motivation and fit. The questions always apply, but the focus and answers need to be different for potential members of boards of directors. No one cares about candidates (with the possible exception of their dogs). People care about what candidates can do for them. So board interviews are all about matching candidates’ strengths, motivation and fit with board needs.
Boards of Directors provide advice, oversight and direction through the strategic decisions they make in order to maximize the value of the corporation for the benefit of its shareholders or, in some cases, stakeholders. Note not all boards and organizations have the same needs. There are, essentially, four different types of boards:
Public boards represent the shareholders of public companies. They are subjected to the strictest regulations and scrutiny and spend most of their time as boards involved in oversight and decision-making. Each member of these boards will need talent, knowledge and skills in enough of these areas for the board as a whole to cover the range:
- Leadership– significant leadership positions over an extended period – especially CEO
- Industry experience in the organization’s industry or something directly applicable
- Technology, intellectual property, financial, audit, human resources – especially compensation and benefits, marketing, government, risk management, global
Private fiduciary boards represent the owners of non-public companies. While they are not subject to all the public regulations and scrutiny, they are subject to many of them and must provide oversight and decision making in the interests of all the owners. Members of these boards will look a lot like the members of boards of public companies.
Private non-fiduciary boards primarily have advisory and oversight roles as the controlling owners maintain the fiduciary responsibility. Those owners may be private equity firms, families, or individuals and their organizations may be operating with different levels of maturity and different issues and opportunities. Care should be taken lest the “directors” take on fiduciary duties.
The major difference between board members of non-fiduciary and fiduciary companies is the predominance of advising and oversight at non-fiduciary companies while board members with fiduciary responsibility advise, oversee and direct. Thus, the most important strengths for board members of private non-fiduciary companies fall into the advising and overseeing areas.
Non-profit boards serve different roles in addition to their fiduciary duties potentially including fund-raising, contributing personal time, making connections for the organization with strategic partners and acting as advisors or representatives of critical stakeholders.
Motivation is good. Like happiness, it’s three goods: doing good for others, doing things I’m good at and doing good for me. Everyone, including board members is driven by a combination of these three. Thus, the will you love the job question is all about potential for happiness.
- What good does the potential board member want to do in the world – and how does that match up with the organization’s purpose?
- What does the potential board member do best – and how does that match up with what the organization most needs from the board member?
- What does the potential board member most want for himself or herself in terms of near term pleasure (enjoyable work/activities, fit with life interest) – compensation (monetary, non-monetary rewards, recognition, respect) – and how does that match up with what the organization is going to provide?
Fit is about the match between board members preferences around behaviors, relationships, attitudes, values and environment and what those are like on the board and in the organization. Note, the closer the match, the easier the board member’s onboarding will be. But, if you’re trying to evolve the culture, add board members that prefer your aspirational culture.