Writing a board cover letter – transcript of webinar


The purpose of this video is to help those of you who are interested in finding a board or non-executive role and need some guidance in how to write a cover letter suitable for a board application.

This is one of a number of clips designed to aid you in the non-executive application process and dovetails with our Board Resume writing webinar.  This clip is brought you to you by Board Diversity (boarddirection.com.au). Board Diversity was created in the belief that diverse boards make better decisions and that, as an individual looking to build a portfolio career or an aspiring board director, finding a non-executive role should not be difficult.

To this end Board Diversity equips members you to develop a board career through practical services  (like Board Access – a job board exclusively advertising hundreds of non-executive vacancies) and exclusive networking groups.


In the past, cover letters were deemed to be good enough if they simply introduced you and your interest in the role and then referred the reader to your attached CV. They were often too brief, functional at best, added no additional value and for this reason they were rarely read.

Regardless of whether you are responding to an advertisement, using a recruiter or approaching a company directly in a post GFC labour market where the number of people desiring board roles far outweighs board opportunities cover letters form a crucial part of your application process.  Today, a cover letter matters. A well written, succinct and evidence based cover letter that demonstrates that you are qualified and passionate is essential and has become and offers the first chance to separate yourself from other job seekers and dares them not to see you. They are now a valuable resource carefully read by employers and strong applicants know this.

Furthermore, a strong cover letter demonstrates you are much more than just your CV. But for a cover letter to be of any value it needs to be both accessible and readable.


Let’s begin with accessibility: Because cover letters are still often seen to be of little value there is a temptation by some to skip over them. To ensure that your cover letter is easily accessible it should where ever possible be placed both in the body of your email application and included as part of your resume i.e. not saved as a separate attachment in the same document as your board resume. By including it in your email and also in your resume you ensure that it is much more likely to be read and therefore begins the process of distinguishing you from other applicants.

Secondly, having made it accessible you must then make it readable. First and foremost it should never be more than a single page long and ideally a good deal shorter. To help you do this break down the cover letter down into 5 paragraphs each dealing with a different aspect of your application.

Only at this point, only after you have done your research, should you reply to the job advertisement or speak with the contact you have for the board rolek If you are interested in how to research effectively and generate new personal connections please see our Board Research video.

The first paragraph must grab the attention of the reader so it should demonstrate your passion for the role: Board want members who are intelligent, qualified AND passionate about what they do. So this paragraph is not a statement about your understanding of the company, where you saw the job advertised or what the role is that you are applying for. Instead it must demonstrate your passion for the role of a board director. It might focus on your previous board experience and how it demonstrates your passion for governance and leadership. The role you are applying for will likely have a experiential focus e.g. it might be finance, marketing or HR focused. If so speak about your passion for your particular expertise and how it might help the board.

This kind of opening is incredibly powerful. Firstly, it immediately captures the reader’s attention. It then demonstrates from the outset a number of positive qualities – your enthusiasm for the role, your ability to do it, your intelligence, connectedness and, if you have researched what the board and company do, their challenges and needs that you to are proactive. Not a bad beginning.

The second paragraph is Your Profile: At this juncture I am going to assume you have watched our Board Resume clip and in particular the section on writing your profile. In essence your profile should neatly summarise your experience, your success, your achievements, your training… and that you are ‘board ready’. Oice written Insert it here, insert it verbatim from your resume so that it becomes your second paragraph. I know many will say that duplication on your application should be avoided but you do not want this paragraph overlooked.  It is your answer to ‘Why appoint you?’ so is critical.

The third paragraph should Address gaps or perceived issues in your Resume: This should be a very short paragraph but everyone has something to address here. Perhaps you are too old, too young, over experienced, under experienced, it is your first board role, you are unemployed, you are changing career or beginning a portfolio career. In any case, you should briefly allay any of your potential employers’ fears so that they do not discount your application because of their preconceived ideas about what you are or have done. For example, if you applying for a role that is a long way away from your home but you are willing to travel then this is the place to say so. Equally, if you are unemployed tell them why (did you retire or leave for health reasons etc) or if this is your first board role explain what else you have done that qualifies you to be appointed. Again, from experience I know how easy it is for employers to disregard an applicant because of ill informed or preconceived ideas. For this reason alone you need to ensure you are absolutely clear on any gaps in your CV. Your penultimate paragraph should contain Something Interesting or memorable about you: Who would you employ if you had to make a decision between two or more equally qualified candidates? The one who seemed to have a personality and had demonstrated their achievements outside of work (clubs, sporting achievements, languages etc) or those who could not demonstrate any interests or success outside of a work setting and seemed the same as everyone else?

I once had a client who when they had the choice to add another candidate to the interview list added an applicant who had represented their country in table tennis. They added him not because of his table tennis skills but because he was the only one they remembered from the list. The reality is that potential employers want to brag about their new hires so you need to give them something to brag about or remember you by.

Finally, your last paragraph should focus on Passion for the company and what they do: Again, this is one of the most important sections and will be boosted by good – non desk based – research. You could end with something like… ‘ Having spoken with your competitors and Mr X your Chief Executive and having been to your office and used your products I know that Company ABC is a leader in its field and you require most qualified board members. My experience to date, my passion for what you do and my eagerness to contribute to a high calibre board are the reason I have chosen to apply for this role.’ This final summary demonstrates your connectedness, intelligence and strategic approach. It is a strong way to finish any cover letter.


Having a cover letter that compliments your board resume is the most important is an important part of any non-executive application process.

In reality 70% of existing board members were appointed by people they know rather than an application process so what is most important is to develop personal connections that pay. In this light, Board Diversity has developed the Non-Executive and Chair Networks specifically designed for non-executives who see the value in these connections and are interested in taking a more proactive approach in developing them. Each ‘Network’, of 10-15 non-executives, meets monthly in an exclusive board environment in Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane and discuss ‘live’ board issues as well as naturally developing new and diverse personal connections. Visit boarddirection.com.au to find out more or to join Board Access which lists hundreds of Australian non-executive opportunities.


I hope you found this webinar useful.  If you would like a hand writing your resume or cover letter please do contact me. Finally, and as I mentioned earlier, this is one of a number of clips designed to aid you in the non-executive application process – others include

  • How to research effectively
  • How to write a non-executive resume
  • How to develop personal connections
  • How to work with non-executive recruiters

To see them please visit www.boarddirection.com.au and ‘open the door to the boardroom’.

Good luck

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