Board of Directors: Referencing prospective candidates

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

  1. Establish the capacity in which the reference is familiar with the candidate’s Board activities
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. To the best of your knowledge, how does the candidate view the role of the Board and/or Board members? How is this evidenced?
  5. Was the candidate generally seen as a constructive or less than constructive voice on the Board? Example?
  6. How has this member handled situations in which there was dissension among Board members?
  7. 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.