Applying for a NED or trustee role


Rowena Ironside and Katy Giddens
Updated March 2019

Non-executive director roles often attract a lot of applications.  So rule number one: DON’T simply send a copy of your executive CV and hope for the best. If you believe that you are a great match for what they are looking for it is your job to ensure that that jumps off the page in your cover letter (see point 5) and is reinforced in your CV. Do not expect the recruiter to trawl through your CV and work that out.

1. Read the role specification carefully to work out whether you are a possible match.  If you have found the role on the Women on Boards Vacancy Board, follow the link to the original online listing, read the selection criteria and then check the How to Apply section.  Remember there needs to be a good match between what they are looking for and what you can offer, so...

2. Phone for further information. Many advertisements will give a contact email or number “for further information”  (although the public sector may not be very helpful in this regard).  Whether you talk to a recruiter, the Chair or the Chief Executive, don’t start an application without tyring to connect with someone. The purpose of the call is to find out more about why they are recruiting a new board member at this point in time and exactly what they are looking for from applicants.  It is impossible to include all the background in an advertisement, so speaking to someone will
  • Ensure you have full details of what they think they need, e.g. which of the selection criteria are non-negotiable and which are “nice to have’s”;
  • Prevent you wasting time applying for a role that you are not a good fit for;
  • Get your name on their radar; if they receive 200 applications that name recognition could make the difference between the No and Maybe piles.

3. Do some due diligence on the organisation to build your understanding of the sector/industry/organisation. Think about the types of skills and experience that might be useful on the board given the current challenges in their sector and the lifecycle stage of the organisation (early stages; mature, growing or divesting).  What can you add? Who else is on the board and how might your background complement theirs?

4. Customise your board CV to highlight areas relevant to this role. A good board CV will make it easy for the reader to understand how you meet their spec and add value to their board. People are not going to trawl through everything you have done in your career looking for relevant skills - you need to bring out the skills and experience they are looking for and do so using their language.  Make it easy for them! 
If you don’t yet have a board CV, read our Article: Writing a Board Ready CV and think about coming along to our Board CV Masterclass.

5.   Last but not least: your application must include a comprehensive cover letter*. This should state:

  • Why you believe you are a good candidate for the role - highlight your fit with their stated requirements [we recommend you list each of their essential skills/selection criteria followed by your relevant experience]. If your due diligence has highlighted other relevant experience you can offer, mention this as well;
  • Why you are interested in joining the board of this particular organisation. Without a degree of genuine interest in the organisation’s mission/challenges, you are unlikely to be considered. You might be surprised how often the word "passion" comes up in the board recruitment process - across all sectors.
  • If you can, make sure you also show an understanding of the strategic challenges the organisation is likely to be facing at this point in time. Linking these to your skills and interest in the role will really demonstrate why you are someone they should interview.

Recruiters are naturally more interested in matching the spec to be filled than in your career, however fabulous it has been.  So making it easy for them to make the link between the two is what ensures an application stands out.

*Quite often recruitment consultants will refer to this covering letter as a 'supporting statement' and ask that within it, you clearly evidence your experience against the essential skills and experience set out in the person specification for the role. Like your CV, it should not be more than two pages long.

Note: if you are a paid subscriber of Women on Boards, go to the Subscriber Resources section of the Resource Centre for an example cover letter.

Good Luck!