A NED Cover Letter – How to write one

Board Cover Letter UK

The Non-Executive Director (NED) cover letter, not your NED CV, is the most crucial component of your board application. It is usually the basis for the yes/no decisions made in the early stages of the application process, regardless of who makes the decision.

Any HR director, board recruiter, or board chair will agree that getting this document right will dramatically increase your chances of making a shortlist and being offered an interview.

Why are NED Cover Letters so important?

In the past, cover letters were treated as a courteous addition to an application, intended to be a simple introduction and expressing your interest in the role. They tended to have no additional value and, for this reason, rarely read, let alone used to assess the suitability of a candidate for a non-executive director role.

However, this is no longer the case. While an NED cover letter does offer the opportunity to introduce yourself, its purpose should be to clearly and convincingly explain why you should be appointed to a particular board role. A compelling cover letter will demonstrate your value at the board level; and that you are passionate, can do the job and are not a risk to the board chair.

For most board recruiters, chairs, and selection panels, this is the part of your board application that they read first. They will make their initial yes or no decisions based on its contents and the selection criteria. So essentially, your NED cover letter is your opportunity to tell the reader exactly why they should select you for the board position. Don’t give them the opportunity to make assumptions about your ability, experience, knowledge, and passion.

What to consider when writing a NED Cover Letter

First impressions matter, particularly in the highly competitive non-executive director appointment process. To do so, a customised NED cover letter must be included with every board application, even when not requested.

Here are some things to consider before you start writing.


You don’t want your NED cover letter to be overlooked, so it must be easily accessible.

I recommend that you don’t save it as a separate document but rather include it as part of one application document. Save it with your NED CV and NED supporting statement (if requested) into one PDF or Word file.


Your NED cover letters should never be longer than a single page. That does not mean decreasing fonts or reducing margins.

There may be exceptions to this 1-page rule; for example, there may be clear instructions to provide a document that addresses each of the key criteria in detail. If this is the case, ensure you keep to the specified word limit or 2 pages as a default.


Before you put pen to paper, you must consider who will be reading the document. Will it be a recruiter, an HR executive, a selection panel, the board chair or an application tracking system (ATS) AI scanner?

If you make it through the first stage, your NED cover letter will most likely need to appeal to more than one audience. However, your cover letter will make the most impact at the first stage. Consider what your reader will be looking for from the top applicants. For example, if the initial audience is the Chair, passion for the role and the cause is paramount, while a recruiter or ATS scanning system will be looking for keywords and skills.


To ensure your cover letter is compelling, you must conduct significant research. Research is crucial when tailoring your cover letter specifically to their organisation’s needs and goals.

Start by exploring the organisation’s mission, vision, and values. Next, delve into the organisation’s recent achievements, challenges, and future initiatives. This will demonstrate that you have taken the time to understand their current situation and are genuinely interested in contributing to their success.

Furthermore, research the current board members and their backgrounds. This will help you identify any gaps or areas where your expertise could complement the existing board composition. Highlighting how your skills and experiences can add value to the board will make your board cover letter stand out.

A template for writing a NED Cover Letter

Your NED cover letter should include five distinct paragraphs.

The first paragraph must grab the attention of the reader by demonstrating your passion for the role.

This paragraph is not a statement about your understanding of the organisation and where you saw the role advertised. Instead, it must demonstrate your passion for the role of a NED and for the particular organisation.

Based on the insights you have gained through your research, you need to pull it together in a statement that articulates your knowledge and how you can help. This kind of opening is incredibly powerful, as it demonstrates from the outset a number of positive qualities—your enthusiasm for the role, your level of commitment and your connectedness. More importantly, it really does provide evidence to the Chair that you are not a risk.

The second paragraph is your board profile – the paragraph that sits on top of your NED CV.

This summary statement addresses the elements a Chair is looking for in a successful candidate. This paragraph neatly summarises your experience, success, achievements, and skills to show that you can do the role. This may seem like a duplication on your application, but you should not assume that the reader will look at your NED CV. It is critical that you tell them why they should appoint you.

The third paragraph should address gaps – real or perceived issues in your CV or application.

It is probably going to be a short paragraph, but most people have something they should include here. Perhaps you appear too old, too young, over-experienced, under-experienced, lack governance expertise, are unemployed, changing careers or beginning a portfolio career, are extremely busy, or have an obvious gap in your NED CV. Whatever the case – real or perceived – you should try to allay decision-makers’ qualms.

If you do not fit all of the selection criteria, this paragraph also offers an opportunity for you to state why you and your particular skill set and experience are more valuable than they might think. State your case here and state it clearly and respectfully.

The fourth paragraph should contain something interesting or memorable about you.

The reality is that Chairs want to brag about their new NEDs. So, if possible, give them something to brag about or remember you by. This penultimate paragraph should contain something fascinating or unique about you.

For example, I was working with an organisation that received an application from an individual who represented the UK in table tennis, amongst other significant professional successes. It was not the coolest sport in the world, but when it came time to finalise who to interview, there was one slot left. The table tennis guy got the slot, not because of his table tennis skills but because he was memorable.

The fifth paragraph is your final chance to make a good impression.

Again, based on your research, summarise and demonstrate your understanding of what the organisation does, your connectedness, intelligence, and strategic approach. Most importantly, demonstrate your passion for the organisation’s objectives and goals. It is a strong way to finish by clearly reinforcing why you are the right person for the role.

In Summary

In a competitive environment, when there are far more candidates than opportunities, NED cover letters form a crucial part of the non-executive application process, regardless of whether you are responding to an advertisement, using a recruiter or approaching a company directly. This one-page document should focus on how you can help and ‘dare them not to appoint you’.

Getting this document right will dramatically increase your chances of being appointed. That is why we offer Unlimited Application Reviews as a service to our Executive Members.

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About the Author

David Schwarz is CEO & Founder of Board Appointments – The UK’s leading board advertising and non-executive career support firm. He has over a decade of experience of putting people on boards as an international headhunter and a non-executive recruiter and has interviewed over one thousand non-executives and placed hundreds into some of the most significant public, private and NFP roles in the world.

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