By - Sandi Webster

Stepping into the Advisory Board: Critical Questions Every Candidate Should Ask

An advisory board can be a powerful asset for any organization, driving strategic growth, fostering innovation, and offering expert counsel. As a prospective advisory board member, it is vital to fully understand your potential role, obligations, and the impact you can make. This article delves deeper into the essential queries a candidate should raise, important considerations to make, and critical factors that will influence the decision-making process.

Understanding the Scope of an Advisory Board

Advisory boards stand apart from traditional boards. While traditional boards shoulder fiduciary responsibilities and make crucial corporate decisions, advisory boards offer non-binding strategic advice to a company’s management. They are reservoirs of industry expertise, independent perspectives, and insightful guidance. Typically, your commitment as an advisory board member centers around providing this advice, participating in regular meetings, and helping the company navigate its strategic landscape. However, the specifics of your involvement can vary significantly based on the organization’s unique needs and the particular expertise you bring to the table.

Key Questions to Ask Before Joining an Advisory Board

Before you commit to an advisory board role, you must delve into a set of crucial questions. Taking the time to explore these questions thoroughly will not only help you understand if the advisory role aligns with your expertise and expectations, but it will also demonstrate to the company that you are a thoughtful and proactive candidate.

1. Clarification on expectations and commitment

Understanding expectations is vital. Ask specific questions about the expected time investment, your role in strategic initiatives, and how hands-on they expect you to be in the company’s daily operations. Expectations could range from attending quarterly meetings and reading through reports to participating in weekly discussions, strategic sessions, and company events. If your current professional or personal obligations conflict with these requirements, consider whether you can make necessary adjustments to your schedule.

2. Understanding the company’s vision and goals

An in-depth understanding of the company’s mission and strategic objectives is crucial. Does their vision align with your personal beliefs and values? Do their goals inspire and motivate you? The more you resonate with their purpose, the more passionate and committed you will be in helping them reach their goals.

3. Evaluation of the other board members’ expertise and roles

Understanding the existing composition of the board will allow you to evaluate how you fit into this ecosystem. Who are the other board members? What are their backgrounds and areas of expertise? How do their roles play into the larger strategic goals of the company? If the board already consists of multiple experts in your field, your unique contributions might be less impactful than in an advisory board that lacks your specific expertise.

4. Financial and non-financial benefits

Assessing the financial and non-financial benefits of an advisory board role is crucial. Paid positions typically provide direct economic benefits like a fixed honorarium, consulting fee, or equity stake and often come with higher expectations and a more significant time commitment. These roles can be lucrative, especially if you bring high-value expertise or connections. Conversely, unpaid positions may not offer direct financial rewards, but they provide valuable non-financial benefits. These include expanding your professional network, gaining insights into a new industry, boosting your reputation, or fulfilling philanthropic interests. While paid roles validate your time and expertise with tangible rewards, unpaid positions offer invaluable experiences that could promote your career growth. Thus, it’s vital to weigh your priorities—immediate financial return, long-term potential, personal growth, or altruistic satisfaction—when choosing the right advisory board role.

5. Understanding the business model and market

Your effectiveness as an advisory board member will hinge on your understanding of the company’s business model and its position within the market. What products or services does the company offer, and what makes them unique? Who are their main competitors, and what trends are shaping their industry? What opportunities and threats does the company face, and how are they positioned to address them? These insights will allow you to provide strategic advice tailored to the company’s unique context.

Essential Skills and Expertise for Advisory Board Members

Joining an advisory board requires a particular set of skills:

  1. Relevant industry knowledge. Deep insight into the industry landscape, understanding emerging trends, and a pulse on competitive dynamics are essential.
  2. Ability to provide strategic advice. Your capacity to offer sound, strategic advice based on your knowledge and experience is paramount.
  3. Strong communication and leadership skills. The ability to articulate ideas lucidly, persuade others, foster productive discussions, and build consensus among the board is crucial.
  4. Willingness to commit time and resources. Advisory board membership demands dedication beyond formal meetings, including reviewing business materials, understanding the business landscape, and providing advice as required.

Assessing the Potential Impact

You must understand how your unique skills and experiences can benefit the company’s advisory board. Reflect on the value you can add by assessing how your expertise complements that of existing board members. It may involve injecting fresh ideas, offering strategic advice, or providing a unique perspective. Equally important is understanding what the role can offer you regarding personal and professional growth. Advisory board membership often leads to expanded networks, enhanced leadership skills, and deeper industry insights. Ensure alignment with your personal and career goals to maximize this opportunity. Remember, the ideal advisory board relationship should be mutually beneficial.

Making an Informed Decision

The decision to join an advisory board is significant and should not be made lightly. Begin by weighing the pros and cons, considering the potential benefits and challenges. Investigate the company thoroughly—its financial health, leadership team, and market positioning—to ensure it fits your skills and interests well. Don’t hesitate to seek advice from trusted colleagues or mentors who can offer additional insights. Furthermore, thorough due diligence can help you understand the role’s potential legal or financial implications. The key is to make a thoughtful, informed decision that aligns with your personal and professional goals, ensuring that your advisory board membership is rewarding and impactful.


Joining an advisory board represents a unique opportunity to impact a company’s strategic trajectory. Asking the right questions and making informed decisions can help you maximize the potential of this role, delivering value to the organization and fostering your professional development. Each advisory board role presents unique challenges and rewards – understanding them is the first step to successful engagement.