According to a Harvard Business Review article called “Research: When Women Are on Boards, Male CEOs Are Less Overconfident,” having more women on boards yields better results for shareholders because having female board members helps temper the overall confidence of male CEOs.

As CEO and Founder of Women Get On Board Inc. (WGOB), my goal, quite simply, is to get one more woman on a board, one woman at a time. In my over 35 years as an executive, corporate director and entrepreneur, I have observed that many women face the same stumbling block as they work to secure their first board seat: acing their board interview.

While women are less overconfident on boards, they also tend to be less confident in their interviews. What’s the solution? Preparation.

Today I want to share my board interview preparation guide with you:

  1. Understand how a board interview works
  2. Understand how the company works
  3. Understand how the industry works
  4. Understand how the board works
  5. Understand your value
  6. Practice makes perfect
  1. Understand how a board interview works

Board interviews and job interviews have some similarities but aren’t the same. It’s essential to understand the differences.

Like a job interview, you should research who you will be meeting with. This will help you build a relationship with the board interviewers. Also, practice active listening and positive body language. This board preparation article from points out that “a candidate might give the perfect answers, but if their body language is not on point, they might end up losing out on a much sought-after job.” Even virtually, you can demonstrate positive language by keeping your posture open and maintaining good eye contact.

Unlike a job interview, board interviewers won’t be evaluating you on your operational skills. They’ll be evaluating your governance skills. Future Directors recommends you “put your ‘director hat’ on before you even enter the room. Think of any anecdotes you have, and draw from previous experience that demonstrates your ability to think and act like a director.”

Before the interview, ask the interview coordinator these specific questions from Board Direction:

  • How long will the interview be?
  • Who will be interviewing you?
  • Does the board use any personality tests? e.g., Myers Briggs Type Indicator
  • What sort of interview will it be? e.g., technical, informal or panel
  1. Understand how the company works

As a corporate director, you’ll be expected to make good governance decisions that affect the company’s future. It’s essential that you understand how the company works. For example, what is their business model? What are their core competencies? Who is on their executive team? What is their long-term strategy? What are the opportunities and challenges that the company is facing? Is the company going through transformational changes or high-growth through acquisitions?

In short, do your due diligence. Summit Executive Resources recommends that you locate and review the company’s public filings and financial statements. Go on SEDAR ( and read the company’s latest annual report, annual proxy circular, quarterly filings, press releases and analyst reports. Additionally, check out the company’s social media and see what is trending online about the company.

  1. Understand how the industry works

Understanding the company is critical. But it’s equally important to know how the company fits into the industry as a whole. For example, is the company a dominant player or a new entrant? What is the company’s strategy to win in the market sector? What are the industry trends that will affect the company’s near- and long-term strategy?

In my experience, this step is crucial in demonstrating your ability to learn, analyze and exercise good business judgement. For example, when I had the opportunity to begin serving on corporate boards in the cannabis industry, I immersed myself in the industry. I soaked up as much knowledge as possible by subscribing to newsletters and attending events, seminars and conferences. Then, I honed my expertise at industry roundtables and sought feedback from my colleagues. It paid off. I was able to use that knowledge to make more informed business decisions.

  1. Understand how the board works

Boards are complex—and each board has its intricacies. To get started, work on understanding:

  • Board culture
  • Board committees
  • Board conflicts

Understand the culture of the board

Board culture is how different board members interact and make decisions together. How will you fit into this culture? Look at the current board composition and their board diversity policy. What would it mean for you if you were the “first” woman on the board? Find out how the board currently interacts. Is it collegial? Or strained? Does the board evaluate its own performance? Ask questions about why they think you would mesh with the culture.

In 2015, one board interview with the CEO of a public company in the retail sector cemented the importance of board culture for me. The company had recently been under pressure because they didn’t have any women on their board. As soon as I walked in, the first thing the CEO said was, “You know, I’m not interviewing you because you’re a woman.” I paused, realizing I had two choices. I could leave politely, or I could move forward. Either way, I knew the board wasn’t the right fit for me and I wouldn’t join it. It seemed to me that the CEO saw me as the token woman, and I didn’t want that role. I responded, “I’m not here because I’m a woman. I’m here because I can add value to your board, so let’s talk strategy.” We proceeded to have a 2-hour strategy meeting. Afterward, I politely declined any further board interviews with that company.

Understand the type of board committees

A board committee is a smaller group of board members that works together to accomplish a task or make recommendations. For example, many boards have the following standing committees: Audit, Nominating & Corporate Governance and Compensation. Recently, many board have also created ESG committees. What committees does the board have? And which of those would you consider joining? Most importantly, which committees could you contribute the most value to? Is the board considering bringing you on because they would like you to chair a specific committee or to groom you as a committee chair? For example, I recently joined a board and put my hand up to Chair the newly-formed Nominating & Corporate Governance Committee because I knew that I could add value and leadership.

Summit Executive Resources offers this advice: “Determine the board’s current competencies but also any gaps and the importance of broad, seasoned experience versus trending experience, such as technological innovation or cyber security. Then, understand the board’s current committee composition and think through which committees may benefit from your contribution.”

Understand board conflicts

Ask for their corporate calendar—the board/committee meetings over the next 12 months. Make sure it doesn’t conflict with your current commitments. Also, ensure that you have sufficient time to commit to this board.

Are there other conflicts you have to be concerned with, like your current employer, financial or related parties? For example, if you’re looking for an opportunity for a cannabis board, make sure that you’re not conflicted from a supply or demand side. Another consideration is interlock holdings, in which two board members serve on multiple boards together, leading to potential conflicts of interest.

For a good overview of questions and issues potential directors should consider before joining a board, refer to Appendix B of CPA Canada’s “20 Questions Directors Should Ask about Building and Sustaining an Effective Board” written by Elizabeth Watson.

  1. Understand your value

Women often have trouble articulating their value to a board. To improve how you communicate your value, prepare your knowledge on these key concepts:

  • Board value proposition
  • Expectations
  • Compensation

Know your board value proposition

Knowing your board value proposition means understanding the value you bring to a board. For example, my board value proposition is “I have entrepreneurial, financial, and governance expertise with high growth and transformational companies in technology, retail, consumer and cannabis sectors.” Your value proposition should include your top three skills/expertise, the type of companies you can add value to and the specific industry sectors you have experience in. For more information, see my blog on Board Resume FAQs.

Know what the board expects of you

Why did the company identify you as a board director candidate? What is their expectation of you going forward? It is important to directly ask, “why was I considered to join this board?” Sometimes you think you know why you are being asked to join a board, but the actual reason is slightly different. For example, when I was asked to join a Departmental Audit Committee, I asked the Chief Audit Executive (CAE) why I was considered for that role. They responded that they thought I was a good fit because my board resume reflected my experience in corporate transformation.

Know the compensation you deserve

Review the board’s compensation in their annual proxy circular. Is there an expectation to purchase shares? Is the compensation in line with your expectation? How often do they do a board compensation review? If it is a private company, you should ask the board’s compensation structure and determine if it aligns with the market comparables. You can review and compare board compensation trends here: “Canadian Spencer Stuart Board Index 2020.” It’s also important to understand the time expectation vs. the compensation. In my experience, you should prepare to spend up to 300 hours per year on a corporate board, depending on the company’s priorities at any given time.

  1. Practice makes perfect

The final and potentially the most important tip is to practice, practice, practice!

Summit Executive Resources writes: “You will be tested. You will be interviewed for your ability to understand what it means to be a board member, your fiduciary responsibilities and your knowledge of how a board room operates. You need to know more about the company than they would ever anticipate you knowing and be prepared to ask thoughtful business-oriented questions as well as share observations. If you have prepared properly, you will have a sense of the organizations’ challenges and how you can bring value to solving those challenges. Put simply, your job is to match yourself up with what they need.”

Prepare for the kinds of questions you will be asked. Make sure you have a good understanding of the company. Ask a good friend or respected colleague to help you prepare for 30 minutes. It is especially useful if the person you ask understands board governance and board interviews. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!


I hope that this blog helps get just one more woman on a board. Good luck. For more tips on getting yourself on a board, consider reading my e-book How to Get Yourself on a Board or consider registering for a WGOB program.