Writing a good cover letter

Most board application process will likely involve you providing a board CV and a covering letter. In WOB's exprience, cover letters vary from excellent to 'need  work'. The two most common sub optimal approaches are:

  1. providing an executive rather than a board CV; and
  2. writing a covering letter without reference to insights about the organisation or why the applicant is interested.

Your cover letter is an opportunity to distinguish yourself by showing that you have an understanding of what the board needs. Firstly check the skills and experience they are seeking to see if they make sense. A desire for a long list of unrelated skills appears from time to time, so go beyond the selection criteria.

Step 1: Do your due diligence

Step 2: Assess your claims - Build a table

In tabular form:

  • List the skills the position requires and, based on your research of the organisation and the board, those it really does NEED.
  • List current and emerging issues / challenges for the organisation.
  • List any relevant information from your conversation with the contact person (and others)
  • Rate your technical and transferable skillset against what you have discovered

You now have the raw material for your cover letter.

Step 3: Structure your cover letter

The recommended approach is:

  • State you interest for the board with reasons
  • Overview what you have to offer – include salient points only (refer to matrix) 
  • Explain how your skills/ experiences/ networks will assist them with their current issues/ challenges

Sample cover letter: Company with a growth mandate

(Filename to include your name and the position)

Dear …,

Re: Application for position on XXX

I write to express interest in joining the Board of XXX. Your market positioning  and growth plans are of interest. I have a long time interest in .....  And I am impressed by your comments about social licence in your Annual Report. 

By way of a brief introduction, I am   .....(use a 2-3 sentence concise summary of yourself)   ......
I have looked at your requirements for this director hire. Of the 8 selection criteria,  I have strong claims against  5 of these,  good claims against  2  and sadly few claims against criteria   .......    

Looking at your issues and comments from colleagues I believe I can add value to company XXXX as follows:

  • My practical, no-nonsense approach to business and risk management, will assist with the growth imperative issues that you are facing.  I have  a track record of using my commercial & implementation expertise with companies in similar circumstances.  
  • I note that you are seeking an expanded range of industry partnerships in the coming year. many of my contacts are relevant to your sector and would, I hope, be a useful contribution to your company.    
  • The chair'e review in the annual report detailed a number of strategic challenges facing the company. My fellow board members and executive colleagues tell me that the thing I do best is to make a complex idea become clear and achievable. Consequently, I would be well placed to help navigate the decisions and communications involved in the journey your company hopes to take. 

Further, I am very comfortable working with XX sized businesses, having worked extensively with private companies, state governments and the Australian arms of international enterprises.

I attached my CV for the position and look forward to your response.

Yours Sincerely