Ellen B. Richstone has extensive public company board experience since 2003. Currently a full time Professional Director, she has experience on boards of companies ranging in size from micro cap up to Fortune 500. Ellen is also a former private company CEO and former Fortune 500 CFO. Her value-add includes not only corporate governance, but also M&A, global business and financial expertise. In addition to public boards, Ellen also sits on the Board of NACD New England and is recognized as an NACD Board Leadership Fellow, the highest award given by the NACD for corporate governance and received the First Annual Distinguished Director Award from the American College of Corporate Directors in 2013.
Here are a few of the important tips she shared during the webinar:
BOARD SEAT VS MANAGEMENT
There is a distinct difference between interviewing for a management position and interviewing for a board seat. This type of leadership needs to be able to assess risk, manage crises, and partake in conversations around strategic growth. Do your homework to make sure you understand what these mean in the company you are interviewing with. In your research, what red flags come up for potential risks, how has the company approached this in the past? How does the company address dynamic customer needs? What is the process for managing a crisis in cybersecurity or public relations?
In board interviews, you need to show that you are a valuable asset, clearly communicating your worth. Know the company inside and out, use all available tools at your disposal to prepare ahead of time, and engage the interviewer by answering their questions and asking your own, like you would in a conversation.
STAGES IN THE BOARD INTERVIEW PROCESS
The board interview does not start when you are sitting in a chair across from the selection committee. Every step in the process is part of the interview – whether you’re talking to a friend, colleague, C-suite executive, current board member; you are presenting your value and differentiation that would make you a good board member. Approach these conversations in that way. We know that 80% of board seats come through your network. When you are being introduced through your network, the first conversation is likely with the chairman or CEO. Make a good impression because what will happen from there could lead you to the selection committee or even the rest of the board.
In the early stages of the interview process, it is important get to know the company and its market share. To do this well, get a couple of the analyst reports and read through them. They are not always accurate, but they paint a picture of how the outside world views the company – whether it is growing, what changes are underway, who the competitors are, if there are emerging technologies, etc.
EVALUATE COMPANY CULTURE AND FIT
This is one of the most important pieces of advice we give to our members as they enter into the interview process. When you join a corporate board, this is a long-term decision. Even though you’re elected yearly, you’re really committing for a long time unless there’s a problem or unless the company sold. For this reason, you want to be in a group of people you get along with and challenge you in positive ways.
Ask questions during the interview process that will give you an idea of what the company’s mission and strategy is, how members communicate, whether they have similar ethics and values to you. Do you see constructive relationships and healthy conversations taking place? How are board members treating each other? Are they doing their due diligence in preparing for meetings? Is there clarity and transparency?
One effective way to evaluate company culture is to learn about the process of adding a board member. Have phone conversations with the other board members to establish a relationship upfront. If members decline this, it can be a red flag. If they say yes, these are conversations where you can learn a lot about how the company runs, which is a largely positive experience.
MAKE CONNECTIONS & FORM RELATIONSHIPS
The board interview process may consist of brief conversations at an event, phone calls, or sit-down interviews. In any venue, you should be able to connect and form a relationship with the person you are conversing with. This is easier done in person where you can read body language, but on the phone make sure to try to connect through examples and stories and let the conversation flow naturally. One key tip is to take the knowledge you learn from one conversation and use it in follow-up conversations, adding your own touch.
Even though boards are judging candidates on their “fit”, it is not always measurable. They are looking for someone who is not arrogant or a know-it-all and has experience, skills, and can add constructively to the topics discussed at meetings. So be yourself and feel comfortable with the answers you are giving.
The opinions and experiences expressed by the webinar participants do not necessarily reflect those of Women in the Boardroom.
Watch our recorded webinar ‘Interviewing for your Board Seat‘ to learn more about these and other board topics
For other webinars from Women in the Boardroom highlighting the various aspects of board service, get access to our library here.