Board-level interviews aren’t like executive-level interviews

Office boardroom meeting table

The application and interview process for board-level positions looks and feels quite different to the executive level. If you’re ready to take the next step in your career, here’s what you need to know.

Achieving your first board level appointment is a career landmark for any mining executive. It’s both an acknowledgement of your valuable expertise and an opportunity to share that expertise with others.

The role of a board member is, by its very nature, different to that of a CEO or a managing director. The focus shifts from being about tactical and operations (namely, Transactional Leadership) at an executive level, to being about strategy, leadership and governance (or Transformational Leadership) at a board level.

As you might anticipate, this means the application and interview process for a board position also looks and feels quite different to the application process you’ll have experienced in your career to date.

I’ve sat in on, and conducted, many of these interviews over the years and I’ve sourced and matched hundreds of ideal candidates to their perfect board opportunities. In this article I’m going to share some pointers to help you make your application as effective as possible.

Getting your resume right

This might seem surprising, but keep your resume short. Preferably one page. And certainly no more than four pages.

I know that already sounds difficult if you’ve had a 30-year career.

But a board doesn’t want to see a six- or seven-page resume with all the technical roles you’ve held. They should already appreciate your technical expertise and your operational expertise, how you’ve developed mines and of course how you’ve solved problems. More importantly it’s about organizational culture leadership. It’s that learning and expertise they’re looking to you to bring — the ability to foreshadow opportunity and identify risk — not how you get your hands dirty doing it.

As you’re deciding what to put in your resume, think of each inclusion this way: You don’t need to explain what a mine manager does, the board already knows. Telling them you were a mine manager 20 years ago will suffice.

Think of it like a brochure, a marketing document — an investor presentation if you will. It’s got to prompt the reader to want to know more. For example, if you state that you “developed a multimillion-ounce gold asset in South America”, the reader may wonder which one it was, and will want to talk to you to find out.

A good resume for a board position will include:

  • A career synopsis
  • Key performance areas or expertise
  • Some bullet points about the positions you’ve held.

Why is that all a board needs to see? To be honest, at this level in the mining industry, your reputation should proceed you somewhat. Your successes and experience should be relatively well-known. If it’s not, then the ‘investor presentation’ has them wanting more detail.

Your resume is, in that sense, really a formality. It’s an expression of interest in joining the board and a statement of the value you bring.

What to expect in the interview

Board interviews are slightly different to normal job interviews. The line of questioning is different. It’s not about your success in managing operations and people; it’s more about your fit for the board.

Partly, that fit is about suitability in terms of board composition — if the board needs someone with your background, be it geology, engineering, metallurgy, finance, legal, etc.

But it’s also about how you interact with the rest of the board and your ability to help lead and guide management.

On that score, there’s an interesting acronym that’s sometimes used in mining when it comes to board appointments: NIFO. It stands for “noses in, fingers out”. What it means is as a board member it’s your role to ask the right questions to find out what’s going on, identify opportunities and risks, and help guide the business around and through them.

Here are a few examples of the line of questioning you can expect to experience in an interview for a board appointment.

How do you demonstrate an appreciation of, and respect for, the differing roles of management and boards?

Many board members continue to hold executive positions at other companies. What we’re looking for in your answer is an understanding that your interaction with this new company’s management will not be the same as it is with your own company, because they are indirect reports and you’re not their manager. There’s a nuance between the CEO and board roles.

Do you demonstrate an ability to agree to disagree and move on to the next topic?

From time to time board members won’t all agree. You must have the ability to come to some form of consensus, or agree to disagree, and move on. And you must be willing to hold the party line, even if it goes to a vote and doesn’t go your way.

Do you understand the three primary roles of a board member?

Board members have three primary roles: they’re an ambassador, an advocate, and an asker. The board will want to know how you understand these roles and which one you think you will do most actively.

A final word on winning your first board appointment

Putting your hand up for, and getting, your first board appointment is a really exciting time in any mining executive’s career. It’s an opportunity to pass on — cross-pollinate, if you will — your knowledge and to help grow multiple organisations at the same time.

If you’re ready to meet that challenge, or you’re thinking about putting your hand up for a board appointment at some point in the next few years and want to be as prepared as possible, reach out to me.

Give me a call on +61 9426 15 48 or email


Lindsay Craig
Mining People International