Most boards have staggered terms to prevent the entire board from turning over at the same time. Having staggered terms also prevents groups of board members from becoming too powerful and keeps decision-making democratic. Recruiting board members should be a continual process so that there is always a quality pool of board applicants. Board members and committee members recommend or refer individuals to the designated nominating committee, which takes responsibility for interviewing candidates for board vacancies.
Board members should not coach candidates to assume that they already have the position. Board members need to be clear that the interview process is not just a formality. Board members who refer candidates should be clear that if they are offered a nomination that they are being hired to take a job.
Think beyond preparing a series of questions for the interview. Plan the interview with the goal of actively engaging the candidate in the interview process. Think about the meaning of the word, “interview.” The prefix “inter” means “between” or “reciprocal” and “view” means “perspective.” The best board candidate interviews resemble a back and forth conversation where the candidate is interviewing you as much as you are interviewing them.
The interview should focus on four main areas:
- Skills, abilities, and talents
- Connections and networks
- Passion for the mission
Most interviews begin with a discussion about the person’s resume and background. You’ll want to ask about previous jobs or board experiences that prepared the candidate for the position. Other questions may center around past relationships with management and how those relationships have affected their expectations of your organization’s management.
The discussion around the candidate’s background is also a good place to draw out the candidate’s questions about the organization, if those questions are not forthcoming on their own. Ask questions that the candidate cannot answer unless he or she has either done thorough research on the company or that require asking the interviewer a question first, before answering them. If the candidate is not actively asking questions about the organization, you might encourage the conversation by asking some of the following interviewer/interviewee questions:
- Where do you think your strengths and weaknesses fit in with the current board? (What are the strengths and weaknesses of the current board?)
- What are your thoughts about our current budget and financial statements? (What is the current financial status?)
- How does the current term of the position fit in with your other responsibilities? (What is the length of the current term?)
- Have you had to deal with any legal issues in past positions that would benefit our board? (Are there any past or pending legal issues facing the board?)
- Have you considered which of our committees are a fit for you? (What are the current committees? Did you have any in mind for me when you recruited me?)
- How do you think the board’s expectations match with your expectations for yourself? (Describe the expectations.)
Skills and Expertise
It goes without saying that you will ask questions about the candidate’s skills and expertise concerning issues like marketing, finances, communications, public relations, or industry-specific knowledge. This part of the interview is also a good time to talk about other things like the amount of time that they are willing to commit, not only to board activities, but also to committee-level work.
Remember that no board candidate comes to the interview without a little room to grow. Serving on a board should allow board members the chance to grow in their knowledge and expertise. Delve a little deeper to find out specific areas the candidate wants to develop knowledge and expertise in. This will be important information later if the candidate is chosen.
Candidates don’t necessarily need to have all the skills that the board is looking for if they have the willingness to grow in that area. For example, having a strong level of comfort in asking for donations can be a more valuable asset for a candidate than one who has had mild success in getting donations in the past.
Connections and Networking
Every new board member brings a host of new connections within the community and the business arena. Ask questions about who those connections are and how they might be used as resources to benefit the board and the organization. Seek information about potential donors and how the candidate can work to bring those contacts into the organization.
Passion and Commitment
Potential board members are generally drawn to an organization because of their passion for the work the organization does. Strengths, passion, and fit are benchmarks of a strong board candidate. Interview the candidate with questions about passion and commitment such as:
- What makes our organization’s mission powerful for you?
- What interests you most about our organization?
- Do you have personal aspirations about serving on our board?
- What does success look like to you?
- What motivates you?
- How do you see yourself fitting in socially with other board members?
In making your final assessment of a candidate, keep in mind that less qualified applicants may have strong potential to grow into the position with the help of a board mentor. Board responsibilities come with legal and other liabilities. Don’t downplay the responsibilities, making it sound like the position is less than it is, out of fear of sending the candidate packing. Remember that it should be a reciprocal, two-way conversation. Don’t dominate the conversation or try to “sell” the organization. If it looks like the candidate has potential, but may not be the best fit, you might consider “trying them out” by offering them a position on the advisory board or on a committee first.