Top tips on writing a great covering letter

Writing a great covering letter or supporting statement for a non-executive role needs a bit of thought. The aim is to underline your suitability for the appointment, which your CV will already have done for you. But a great supporting statement can also be really powerful in highlighting your motivation for becoming part of the non-executive team. Here are our top tips for getting the right message across:

  1. Talk about the organisation you are applying to be part of before you talk about yourself. We still read lots of really dense covering letters that are overly detailed where every paragraph begins with “I”. The work any board does happens at a strategic, ‘big picture’ level. Do make sure that you understand, and can refer to, the big strategic priorities an organisation is thinking about for success. Doing this enables you to connect with the reader by showing them you understand their journey and therefore how your own background is relevant and helpful. 
  1. Keep it focused and relevant. Avoid writing pages and pages. Our advice is always to keep the covering letter high level, personal and relevant. Play back to the reader the fact that you have really understood what matters most to them. It’s much better to have two pages of text that resonates with the specific brief for the role and connect with the organisation’s specific position, than five pages of beautifully written text that talks about everything you have done in your working life.  
  1. Remember the experiences, skills and qualities that will be more relevant to the role and focus on these. This is especially important for first-time non-executives because it takes time and practice to transition out of an executive / day job mindset, and into a non-executive way of thinking and seeing the world. Draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper and list your executive skills and strengths on one side, and the skills, experiences and qualities relevant to the board room on the other. When you have completed your first draft application, go back through it and check that you haven’t strayed too far on to the executive side of the page. 
  1. Make it personal. Especially in the not for profit sector, organisations set a lot of stall by personal motivation and connection when they are looking for new Board members. You will, in all likelihood, need to bring the specific backgrounds or experiences as set out in the pack, but if there is a particular reason why you are attracted to a cause or mission, do say so. Stating personal reasons for wanting to join an organisation used to be seen as irrelevant in a largely competency-based recruitment scenario; however, this is changing and how people bring their whole selves to the board room, to make their best contribution, aligns with a fresher, more contemporary approach to Board recruitment.   

It’s important to follow the instructions carefully whenever you apply for any role. You might find that, for some roles, you are instructed to answer a particular question or follow a certain format. In these cases, always do as you are asked, but you cannot fail by saying something about your motivation and interest in the organisation, even if you only add a few sincere and personal lines at the beginning or at the end.