Following what Melbourne woman Kate Gaffney described as “a car crash of a board interview” the WOB member steered her next interview in the right direction - landing her a dream board role. Here Kate shares her board interview learnings and why you should never underestimate the importance of identifying, articulating and targeting your value proposition.
"At a recent board director interview with a regional education provider I was asked what I would bring to the board. With over 20 years’ experience in the sector, I felt more than capable of taking on this role. And then came my (not very confident) pitch.
Overall it was a lovely interview with nice directors at a gutsy little institution. Towards the end the chair reflected on the organisation and made the comment that they weren't as student-centric as they should be.
Only afterwards did I realise that I take my own student-centric and staff-centric focus for granted in education. I hadn't even mentioned that I'd bring a student-centric/staff-centric perspective to the board following on from over 20 years as an educator. I do that in my other Government education committee role and never even realised it.
It dawned on me: I completely forgot to mention my key value proposition.
The silly thing is that I knew there were no educators on the board (in fact I thought "they really need some educators on that Board for balance") but I hadn't thought it through at all and considered why and how I personally brought those skills.
It was a trap for young players to not have fully realised my points of difference because I took them for granted. So how on earth could the interview panel know what I brought to the table if I hadn't even realised it myself, let alone articulated it in the context of their board and organisation? It's quite embarrassing to reflect on.
I also think that honesty is a big part of the interview. If I hadn't felt comfortable telling the chair, other directors and CEO about my motivations during an interview, what would that suggest about how comfortable I would feel raising an issue as a director or dropping the bravado/ego and doing what's best for an organisation even if it didn't reflect well on me personally?
Learn and move on
I suppose some things are meant to be. I may have missed out on that board role, but then another opportunity came up with a not-for-profit regional education provider - my BIG passion.
At that interview I was very clear about my value proposition and confidently put it out there after studying the current board membership and knowing I was bringing skills and perspectives which were necessary but absent. And I got the role!
So my "pitch" included considering my own deficiencies and how best to overcome these, not just conceal them or minimise them.
I was also very honest about my motivations and the reason for my interest in their organisation - possibly more open and honest than I have ever been in any type of interview before - which I hope augurs well for my role in the wider board culture.
The new role is a 12-month board cadetship. The interviewers were surprised I'd applied for a cadetship not a full board position, but they couldn't ask about that outright. So I raised it myself, explained I felt I had gaps in my board experience and wanted a gentler introduction to the responsibilities of being a director of a complex tri-sector education NFP organisation and I wanted to make use of all the opportunities of a cadetship like mentoring and being able to sample each of the three board committees as part of the cadetship.
So what did I learn from this?
It’s not about developing a "pitch" in a slick way of selling yourself. It's about examining what you bring to the board table ( including to things you might take for granted), what that board needs, and in the process being honest with yourself about any gaps you may have.
It was also a lesson in really examining my value proposition and having insight not only into my own perspectives and biases but those of others. And also more evidence of why Women on Boards is so important to understanding boards.