Trustee Interviews: Questions at the Ready
Trustee interviews usually involve a panel of interviewers. They are often led by the CEO or Chair and can include other members of the board, executive directors, volunteers or service users. We often hear that interview processes should be a twoway street. An opportunity for everyone to find out if it’s the right match. Yet, once the panel’s questions are answered, the candidate only has a short time at the end to explore what they are curious about. It makes it even more important to think about what you want to ask before you get there. When you want a glimpse behind the curtain into the real culture of the board and organisation you are considering joining, it’s important to get beyond the rehearsed responses.
Here are some questions we recommend you ask:
What does your induction plan for new trustees look like?
The responses could vary from the relatively informal or “on-the-job” to much more formal induction materials, training and a buddy on the board to support you through the first few meetings. Even if the organisation doesn’t immediately offer up some of the more formal options, it’s worth asking whether they would consider it, particularly when stepping into your first board role. As board interactions have moved increasingly online, these more formal steps have seemed increasingly vital. Without those chats over coffee and lunch, it’s much harder to find organic opportunities to ask the little questions you may have as a newcomer to the charity. That doesn’t mean the charity can’t take steps to create space for them.
What was the last issue that the board disagreed on and how was that issue resolved?
Boards should bring constructive challenge and oversight to the organisation. It’s important to debate the issues and bring out different perspectives in board discussions. A board that struggles to remember the last time there was a difference of opinion is likely to be suffering from groupthink. One that disagrees a lot and struggles to build sufficient consensus to move initiatives forward may well have hit a level of dysfunction that needs an intervention. As with most things, it’s important to strive towards a balance and it’s helpful to know which way a board is leaning before you get around the table.
When it comes to the charity, what’s keeping you up at night?
This is a good way to find out what’s really important to the existing trustees and senior leadership team. I have participated in interview processes where the advert has stated that they are looking for a trustee with particular skills and when you ask the panel what their priorities are, they don’t match up. If you’ve asked for a trustee with diversity and inclusion skills but you’re not worried about whether your staff feel
valued, it doesn’t feature on your strategic plans and you don’t have any internal staff with responsibility in that area yet, you’ve got a mismatch. Maybe there’s a good explanation. Maybe the strategy is coming to the end of its lifespan and they are recruiting you to help set the priorities for the next cycle. Or maybe they see this recruitment as the whole solution. Either way, it’s important to find out. It’s not always about a right or wrong answer. We are all striving to do better. Organisations will be on different points in their journey and it’s for you to decide whether you want to join them for the next stretch.
Sapna Marwaha is a commercial lawyer and independent consultant with board roles spanning the public, private and non-profit sectors. Her current roles include non-executive director of the Association of Research Managers and Administrators, development board member of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in Science and Health and lay member at NHS Blood and Transplant. You can find out more about her on LinkedIn and Twitter.