Several years ago when I was working in Executive Search recruiting, a client that was searching for a new member of its Board of Directors asked for guidance on conducting reference checks. The questions that were compiled then have stood the test of time and a couple of them are particularly powerful in eliciting how a prospect might function as part of the Board.
Candidates who have served on other Boards
- Establish the capacity in which the reference is familiar with the candidate’s Board activities
- Specifically, what role did the candidate play on the(se) Boards, e.g. technology, marketing, finance? How has he/she used his/her technical skills, education and/or experience to benefit the Board?
- Did the candidate serve on any subcommittees of the Board? If so, did the subcommittee (or the Board) deal with any prominent issues during his/her tenure and what was his/her role in delivering value around these issues?
- To the best of your knowledge, how does the candidate view the role of the Board and/or Board members? How is this evidenced?
- Was the candidate generally seen as a constructive or less than constructive voice on the Board? Example?
- How has this member handled situations in which there was dissension among Board members?
- Are you aware of any issues regarding this individual’s ability or availability to uphold his/her commitments to the Board?
Candidates without prior Board experience
If a candidate does not have Board experience, the same topics can be probed relative to those “Board-like” experiences that he/she has had with management or other constituencies. If the candidate has had prior consulting experience, it may be helpful to explore how he/she has been helpful to the companies that have engaged him/her.