Interview Techniques

“Just a coffee chat” is code for be prepared

“If anyone ever invites you to have coffee with the chair of the board during the recruitment phase for a directorship role, don’t believe it. It is code for be prepared,” Jurd says.

It may seem like a casual invitation, but the expectations are the same, regardless whether the setting is a café or in a private meeting room. Be thorough with your research and be prepared to talk at length about the organisation, its direction and its strategic risks.

First, do your homework on the board

“Make sure you do your due diligence on the board’s composition first. This exercise is really important and requires you to invest a lot of time, but it is really worth it.”

“As a candidate, it is crucial that you understand the skills make-up of the board, levels of experience and most importantly, how and why you would fit into the board. Be sure to be able to articulate how you will add value to the organisation,” he explains.

Do a skills-matrix type exercise and pay particular attention to the board’s diversity mix, its various committee structures, geographical location, and the tenure and specialties of each individual director.

“Each of these factors is a window into the boardroom.”

Then, do your homework on the business

“Well, this part isn’t rocket science, but you would be surprised how many people forget to do the very basics, and how many more fail to go that extra mile. There are two parts to consider here,” Jurd explains.

  • External to the business
    Get up to speed with the issues facing the sector as a whole. This shows initiative and great strategic insight. What are the ways external factors are likely to affect the organisation? Have you considered a response or solution?

  • Internal to the business
    Seek out people with ties to the organisation to get a better understanding. Read as much publicly available information that you can. The chair and the CEO’s reports are a great place to start getting a glimpse into the priorities for the business.

“My advice to potential candidates is to go that one step further, and take a view on the external goings-on and the internal priorities. Be able to freely discuss your perspective. No one wants to listen to you recite the website verbatim.”

Three common mistakes

Jurd has seen candidates commit the same mistakes when looking for a new board position. Here he provides some guidance on how to avoid faltering at the interview hurdle.

Think like a director – big picture, strategy and risk.
  1. A brief search is not enough – Don’t just look at the company website for information. Look for media coverage, visit the sites if it is a physical asset, purchase a product if it is a retailer. Show interest in them for them to show interest in you.

  2. Link your experiences – Resounding feedback from chairs is that candidates don’t articulate their experiences in a way that shows a strong enough understanding. Look for the similarities in business patterns or business models between your experience and the organisation. It doesn’t necessarily matter whether you have experience in the specific industry. The key is to find the parallels: is the business a multisite? Is it owned by private equity going to an IPO? Has it recently undergone a merger? Is it a majority family-owned business? Is the organisation looking to expand? There are similarities in the lifecycle of all organisations.

  3. Prepare two examples. Stick with one – Often the examples used at interview are too ‘thin’, i.e. candidates skimmed over several examples with little detail being attached to each scenario. Prepare two examples of strategic challenges you’ve faced and how you’ve approached it, but only use one in the interview. Remember, don’t drift into management speak and discuss the operational tactical implementation. Think like a director – big picture, strategy and risk.