July 11, 2014

Conducting an Advisor Interview

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Conducting an advisor interview is all about how this person can add immediate value.  You are looking for something specific – a deep source of knowledge on a pressing challenge or opportunity, connections into an industry you are looking to penetrate, or experience dealing with topics and situations you frequently handle. Just as important is judging the “professional tone” of the potential advisor and if you feel your personalitites and business personas align well.  

In a perfect world meetings are done over breakfast or lunch, but almost 90% of the time advisors and board members are remote.  Therefore, a 30 minute conference call is the perfect starting point. Before the meeting, forward the candidate a few links to general information on your company, as well as any specific pieces of information that you’d like to hear their thoughts on that pertain to the main reasons you would bring on this individual as an advisor.  There is no need to ask them to “review” or “prepare” for the call – this is another great way to see the “effort” they put in ahead of the call.  On your end, before the call, Google the individual and see what appears. Look on LinkedIn and see if you have any contacts or interests in common.

A recommended format for the call is as follows:

Pleasantries – 2.5 Minutes – Mention any contacts or interests in common and thank them for their time.

Background on the Company – 5 Minutes – Provide some background information on the mission of the company, the stage it is at right now, and where you want to see it going in the coming years.

Candidate Background – 5 Minutes – Ask the candidate for a 5-minute overview of their background as it relates SPECIFICALLY to your company (and/or any specific reasons you think he or she could add value). This is a nice way of saying I don’t want to hear about where you went to college and all your jobs to this point.  

Why I Am Talking to You – 5 Minutes – Explain what interested you in their background and what specifically you “need.” Spell out the full situation for them so you give them a solid baseline with which to respond how they could help in this regard.

How Can You Help – 10 Minutes – This is the time for back and forth and where you will largely determine if this candidate can really help your company as an advisor. Be selfish in the sense that you want someone to help specifically with X – you don’t need another big thinker and advisors are meant to add specific value in specific ways.  Explain the different ways this individual could add value and dovetail directly into asking them what they think. Then it is time to listen – let the candidate talk. Ask short follow up questions when appropriate, but let them do the talking.

Wrap-Up – 2.5 Minutes – Thank the candidate for their time. If you don’t see a fit at all, it is still polite to explain you are talking with several folks and that if not a fit now there still could be in the future. Kindly send them an email a few days later explaining this.  If they were good but not really a fit for right now, explain that you see them being a fit and you’d like to keep the dialogue going as you could see them potentially joining as an advisor in the future. Plan to touch base in a few months to stay in touch.  If they are a great fit, tell them that and that you’d like to take a week or so to think through what compensation might look like. When you get in touch the next time, send an informal email breaking out what you feel is appropriate compensation (per meeting fee, quarterly fee, equity). Once you agree on that, then you can forward over the routine paperwork that both of you sign to make it official.

Conducting an advisor interview is actually incredibly useful – you’ll be amazed at the ideas and feedback you get from even just doing the interviews.  So set aside a few hours one day, conduct 30-minute advisor interviews back to back, and see the impact an advisor can have on helping your company achieve the next level of success.

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