by Coco Brown, Founder & CEO | Athena Alliance
As you navigate the process to join a board, there are some things you must absolutely know and do. Here at Athena, we’ve been supporting women as they make their way to the boardroom for more than three and a half years. We’ve learned a lot along the way.
We’ve had one-on-one conversations with more than 600 CEOs and board directors to learn more about how boards are changing, what they are looking for, and how their selection processes are operating and evolving. Along the way, we’ve supported over 250 open board seats, secured more than 400 board interviews for women, and helped women land over 50 roles with both public and private boards of a variety of sizes, industries, and challenges.
These engagements have helped us understand what it takes to achieve a board seat. Preparing for your interview in the right way is critical.
Part I: Board interview preparation
First, do your homework. Research. Find out everything you can about the company so you’re not asking questions you could find the answers to yourself. Not only will this avoid wasting time, but it will also allow the conversations to focus on a deeper level. (Not to mention, it presents you as a professional, organized, and prepared candidate.)
If you’re interviewing for a public company board seat
For a public company, here are some research tips:
- Remember, Google is your friend!
- Read the company filings, such as the annual report and the 10-k.
- See what analysts are saying. Why are they bullish, why are they nervous?
- Listen to the earnings calls.
- Read the press on the company’s website.
- What is the general public sentiment about this company? Read the news.
- Dig in and know who the current board members are. Research their backgrounds, what they are likely interested in, and what they bring to the board.
- Who are their competitors and where are they in relation to those competitors?
- How has the stock performance been, and what is contributing to the ups and downs / stagnation / great run / continued decline?
It’s relatively easy to get your hands on almost anything you need to know about a public company. Remember, the board will expect that you did your homework. (They will have done theirs, too.) By the time you meet with the board, they will know your background, experience, and capabilities. They will be digging into the nuances of what you bring to the table, and how you will be additive to the board as a collective as well as the strategies and challenges of the company.
If you’re interviewing for a private company board seat
If you are looking at a private company, here are some tips on research:
- Crunchbase is a great resource.
- When was the company founded, by whom, and for what purpose (has it changed)?
- Who has invested along the way?
- Who is on the board? (Sometimes this information is not discoverable; you may have your best chance at discovering it from the company’s own website.)
- Read the press on the company’s website.
- Read what their investors are saying about them.
- What is the public sentiment? Read the testimonials, but also what’s being said on Twitter, in the news, on LinkedIn, etc.
- Where are they with their funding rounds? Read the press releases associated with funding rounds.
- Who are their competitors and where are they in relationship to them?
It can be challenging to get your hands on information about a private company, but Crunchbase, the company’s website, and LinkedIn will give you a lot. And remember that we’re in your corner. You can always ask us for more information if we are presenting you for an interview. Please don’t hesitate to ask if we can find out a few things you aren’t able to discover on your own or the Athena Member Portal. Once you’ve done this, think about what you’ve learned with respect to long-term and short-term trajectory, goals, and challenges on the horizon. What can you bring to the table to address big aspects of the opportunities and challenges the company has in front of it?
It’s also important to do all this research if you see a board opportunity listed that you really want, but don’t seem to be who they are looking for. If that is the case, having done your homework means perhaps you’ve found a unique angle on why you are exactly who they should be looking for even though they don’t know it. One thing Athena offers that no one elsedoes, is the opportunity for you to make a case for yourself. So, do your research and make that case.
Part 2: Board interviews
An interview like no other. A board interview is nothing like a job interview. It’s not enough to go in armed with your history. This is going to be a dialogue about you, what you see in the company, and what you can contribute to the board.
Athena is seeing a pattern in the feedback we receive from companies who pass on applicants after interviewing with them. Here’s what we most often hear:
- The candidate did not seem to have done enough research to fully understand the company, its published strategy, and its business.
- The candidate treated the process like a job interview. They ran through their history and spoke about their accomplishments as an operator.
- The candidate failed to illustrate strategic inquiry and the ability to collaborate at an advisory level as an overarching steward of business.
Throughout all this, it’s important to be patient. Remember, boards meet much less frequently than management teams. Open board seats do not keep CEOs up at night; they have plenty of competing priorities. And finally, it’s a collective decision requiring five or more people to be aligned. It’s very common for it to take 9 to 12 months to fill a board seat, or even longer.
For Athena members: the support to get you there
For Athena members, we offer incredible resources to help you prepare for board interviews in our Member Resource Library. Athena members should take advantage of our entire library but in particular, read through each of the pieces in the Board Selection section.
Finally, over time most of what you will need to know as a board member and board seeker will be available to you as we build on our Boardroom Insights Virtual Salon series. Within this series of events, you’ll discover guidance on committees, financials, dealing with crisis and so much more. Ideally, you join these members-only events live so you can engage in the dialogue, but if you can’t you can view them on your own time through our Resource Library / Virtual Salons.
There is so much at your disposal to help you succeed here at Athena. We are here to champion your success. And if you ever need more assistance, all you have to do is ask.