6 Steps to Prepare for Your Government Board Interview

07 Oct 2020

6 Steps to Prepare for Your Government Board Interview

Congratulations! You’ve been shortlisted for a government board role. Now what?

Many potential candidates stumble at the interview stage because they don’t know what to expect and/or fail to prepare properly. Yes, interviews can be a daunting, unfamiliar (even alien) experience but the right preparation will give you the best chance of success.

Interest in board roles in Australia remains high, despite the critical findings of the Hayne report into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry, and the ongoing disruption caused by COVID-19. Yes, it still waxes and wanes but competition for board roles remains strong.

You’ve decided to take your first steps towards the boardroom, refined your CV and social media presence and nurtured your strategic networks. Now you’ve identified a role of interest and secured yourself an interview. What should you expect on the day?

First, you need to make sure you’re in the room for the right reasons. Ensure you have a connection to the purpose of the organisation. The ‘Dorothy Dixer’ – “So, why are you interested in the role? What makes you the best candidate? Tell us about your motivation for seeking nomination”. If you’re struggling to answer this question, you probably shouldn’t be there anyway, so save yourself and the panel’s time and focus on other opportunities.

Second, You will need to explain what it is that you bring to the table and how it fits with the organisation, i.e., matching the gaps in their skills matrix with your skills to ensure you can contribute in a meaningful way. “What skills do boards need and which of those do you have?” Gone are the days when boards were populated solely by lawyers, accountants and CEOs.

Third, do your due diligence. This might seem obvious but read the annual report, know the vision, values and purpose of the organisation, read up on the legislation and governance structure, and familiarise yourself with the current strategy document. “What do you see as the major challenges and imperatives involved in implementing the board’s 2020-25 Strategy?” “If you are appointed, how will you help deliver the Minister’s vision?” In my experience, many people fail here. You won’t have all the information to make a fully informed response but it will demonstrate you’ve thought about it and developed a position.

Fourth, you need to anticipate the other questions you’re going to be asked. Expect the panel to target your understanding of the role of a board and the attributes of a good director. They will look for examples where you have demonstrated those attributes. They will also test your technical skills if that’s a key component of the conversation (ICT, finance, risk, etc.). Remind yourself of best practice governance, so you are equipped to answer the following:

  • What strategies do you have for managing a conflict of interest in yourself or others?
  • What data (financial and non-financial) do you like to see to ensure an organisation is being managed appropriately?
  • Who are the board’s key stakeholders and how will you engage with them?
  • What do you consider to be the board’s responsibility for risk management?

Fifth, be prepared to talk about some of your softer skills; intellectual agility, EQ, tact, collaboration, judgement, strategic thinking, influence, commitment, humility, ethical standards. Have examples of where you have demonstrated these skills ready to go. “What is your proudest accomplishment in setting a strategy and why? What is your approach to leading a room to consensus? Give us an example of a time where your integrity was tested.”

Sixth, enjoy it. In my experience, the people across the table really want you to shine. You’re in the room for the right reasons and have already beaten a lot of the competition, so try to relax and back yourself.

Clearly every organisation is unique and there will always be variations in what you experience in interview. But if you follow these simple tips you will certainly be giving yourself the best opportunity to be successful. These aren’t shortcuts – rather, this is basic due diligence and will reflect positively on you on the day. And even if you don’t get the role, consider it preparation for the next interview. Now, get to it!