Rowena Ironside, Sarah Laessig and Caroline Emmet
May 2014, updated September 2014

If you have made it to an interview, we want to make sure that you do yourself justice. Have you done the preparation required to give yourself the best possible chance?

This article covers tips about things you should do - and some you should avoid.

  1. Don't underestimate the importance of thorough preparation - try and give yourself at least a week.  It will probably take longer than you think, and you need to allow time to accommodate the diaries of some of those key people in your network (or ours) who you will want to talk to.  And don't make the mistake of thinking "it's only a preliminary interview with the recruiter" - if you aren't prepared for the prelim you won't get to the final interview.
  2. You will need to demonstrate a strategic understanding of the organisation and the challenges and opportunities it is likely to face.  Even if you are bringing a technical skill to the board, you will be expected to be able to contribute to the big picture discussion.  For public sector appointments you will also be expected to demonstrate an understanding of the political context in which the organisation operates; what sort of political pressures is it likely to be subject to? (what's been in the press recently).
  3. If you are asked to prepare a presentation, time yourself and don't overrun.  It's OK to take notes in with you and refer to them during the presentation.
  4. You will normally be offered the chance to speak to the Chair or Chief Executive or someone else on the the board before the interview.  You must take this opportunity!  [Ask them about the challenges the organisation is facing and what skills the board needs to add].  If it hasn't been offered, ask for it.
  5. On the day: Don't assume that the panel have read your CV and application and know your qualifications for the role. Assume that you will be judged solely on your performance in the interview. You need to demonstrate how you will add value to the board, and that you will fit with the board culture.
  6. Think through and practice your answer to the question "How will you add value to the board".  This is probably the single most important question.  As well as highlighting what you are bringing, your answer should show an understanding of the other members of the board - will you be the only marketing expert or the only accountant?  What networks and experiences do you bring that may be unique?
  7. Be prepared for specific questions about the key skills requirements.  Prepare and practice a couple of stories about things you have done that show how you match what they are looking for.
  8. Make sure you have one or two questions to ask.  They don't need to be too complex or clever; e.g. simply ask the Chair (or Chief Exec) to talk about what they believe the organisations' key challenges or opportunities are.  Or ask about the culture of the board.  Even if you have already had these questions answered, e.g. at a long list interview, ask at least one again of the final panel.
  9. If this is your first board role, practice your response to a question about your readiness to operate in the boardroom.  A good answer would both showcase your understanding of the role of the board as well as talking about your proxy board experience (come to a WOB Getting Started workshop if you don't feel prepared on either of those fronts)
  10.     Find out who you will be interviewed by.  Research these individuals before the interview.

Public Sector specific questions to be prepared for:
  • You will be asked if you have any potential conflicts of interest.  You need to consider family members as well as yourself when answering this question.
  • You may be asked about Nolan's Principles of Public Life (you will find a link in our Reference Materials)
  • You may be asked about your commitment to diversity and equality.  How might different gender or ethnic groups experience the organisation and what specific issues might need to be catered for?  How does diversity strengthen an organisation?

A final point: PRACTICE - your presentation, your stories, your answers to the obvious questions.  Try and "think yourself into the role" and answer questions as a board member (not a hopeful) - remember you need to be happy the role is right for you just as they need to be happy that you fit their requirements.

* Sources of Information: many can be found on the Internet, but ask for them if not:
- Annual report and accounts (if not on their website they will be available via Companies House or Charity Commission website)
- Recent press reports
- "Constitutional" documents such as: Memorandum and Articles, Statutes, Trust documents
- Public consultations regarding the organisation and its role
- Regulators: National Audit Office, Ofsted, Ofcom, ... reports on the organisation's performance
- Parliamentary discussions / questions.
If you are applying for a public office or NHS appointment, make sure you attend any open Board Meetings or Council of Governor Meetings or Members’ Meetings taking place before or during the process.  This can give you a sense for how the Board operates and demystify the process, give you some direct insights into the challenges the organisation is facing, and offer the opportunity to have some informal conversations with board members and governors.  It can also be worth mentioning in your application/at interview as it demonstrates you are keen and interested and have shown initiative to find out more about the body you are applying to.

Good luck!  And remember, if you don't get offered the job it's not personal. It doesn't mean you aren't a great candidate for a NED role - it means that you weren't the right fit for this particular role.