Handshake in interview
Aug 28, 2019 Anna Tobin
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Why some strong candidates fail to secure a role

Every day we see fantastically talented candidates apply for roles. While many of them are successful, some fail to actually secure a board role. In all of these cases, it’s not as a result of a lack of talent, it’s down to a poor presentation of that talent, both at the application and at the interview stage, if they get that far.

Here we explain what to include and what to exclude from your application to give you the best chance of progressing to the next stage, and then we reveal how to give yourself your best shot at the interview to vastly increase your odds of being offered the position.

How to write a successful job application for a board role

To write a successful job application for a board role, follow these 8 key rules:

1. Always fill in the application form when applying for a board role

Highly successful people occasionally consider themselves above filling out a job application, they think a quick phone call or email saying they’d like the role will do. In most cases it won’t. A typical reaction from the chair of a board to a failure to submit an application form is, “if someone doesn’t have the humility or time to apply for the role they are unlikely to fit in with the culture and hours that this board requires.”

2. Do not try and cut out the middleman when applying for a board role

Boards use headhunters or particular executive search platforms for a reason. They do not want candidates to bypass this screening process. Doing so risks irritating the board and may bring them to question whether you will try and dodge more serious corporate governance instructions.

3. Do not ask the board to carry out any research when applying for a board role

You must give the recruiters everything on a plate. Do not advise them to look you up on LinkedIn or Google your name. You must invest time in showing the board what you can do within the small written window they have given you.

4. Do your own thorough research when applying for a board role

Not only should you have read all the recent press and company reports, researched the organisation’s goals and values and thoroughly examined their goods and services, you should also do some background on the board members themselves. Check out their various expertise and then highlight how your skills could complement those offered by existing board members.

5. Show don’t tell when applying for a board role

It’s easy to tell the board of a tech start-up that you are passionate about technology, but that doesn’t actually explain anything to them about the source of your passion. Mention your Masters in ICT (Information and Communication Technology) law and how you successfully launched and scaled-up a digital laundry delivery platform that you went on to sell to a Venture Capital company. Give them the evidence to back up your claim.

6. Don’t assume anything when applying for a board role

You may have sold My Fantastic Company for millions of dollars, and while My Fantastic Company may have been the largest player in the electric valve actuator market at the time, the board you are applying to may not have heard of it, or know what an electric valve actuator does. Don’t expect the board to have any prior knowledge of you.

7. Explain the relevance of your experience when applying for a board role

Articulate what your experience brings to the board role you are applying for. Fail to explain the relevance of your experience and the board may quickly overlook you. This board is not selling anything akin to electric valve actuators, but it is selling something equally obscure, show them that that’s where your skill set can really benefit them and if these skills have recently been used with success highlight this.

8. Read the question when applying for a board role

It may sound like a trivial piece of advice to a first-time GCSE student, but failing to read the question properly is something that we are all guilty of doing throughout our lives. Tell us about yourself is a standard question that candidates often get wrong. Don’t treat this as an opportunity to highlight the key points on your C.V. This question is asking not what you have achieved, but what sort of person you perceive yourself as and why, try to link this to the core competencies set out in the role specification.

How to successfully interview for a board role

To successfully interview for a board role, follow these 5 key rules:

1. Read back on your application form to successfully interview for a board role

It’s not unusual for some time to pass between your application and your interview. Your application form will be the board’s key reference point when they interview you, so spend a few minutes reminding yourself of what you said in it just prior to the interview. It was obviously good enough to secure you an interview, you want to make sure that you can elaborate on the points you made in your application.

2. Be polite to all you encounter in the lead up to and at the interview

We have heard of chairs who have based a final hiring decision on the way that the candidates have spoken to those arranging the interview. Repeated rescheduling of the interview without an apology or treating the receptionist leading you into the interview with no respect, these little details are all noted and could indicate how you will approach board life. Be respectful to everyone involved in the interview process.

3. Preparation is key to successfully interview for a board role

It sounds unbelievable, but we have seen instances where incredibly strong candidates on paper have turned up to a board interview, without having done any research on the company or its board. Read back over the research you should have done prior to filling out the application form, check if any recent news stories on the organisation have emerged since and, if possible, try out one of the organisation’s products or services. Remind yourself what appeals to you about the role and what makes you the ideal candidate to take it on.

4. Don’t take over the conversation if you want to successfully interview for a board role

Boards will have several questions to pose to you. Don’t spend 50 minutes of your allocated hour on the first question. Chairs occasionally report that a candidate left them no time to ask other questions and that is not the sort of person they would want on their board.

5. Be ready to challenge the interviewers if you want to successfully interview for a board role

It is important that you ask a couple of challenging questions to the interview panel too. After all, challenging the organisation’s ideas and objectives to make sure that they are watertight is the key role of every board member. You have to show that you are listening carefully to their answers and weighing them up against your own judgement. You don’t want to come across as arrogant here.

If you are looking for non-executive director roles, Nurole's innovative recruitment platform can help.

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