Whether you are applying for your first board role or are looking to land your next NED opportunity, the quality of your CV and covering letter can make or break your chances of success.
A non-executive director CV is not your standard curriculum vitae. The role of a non-exec is different, so both the CV and cover letter need to be adapted to reflect this. You will need to ensure that your CV and supporting statement stands out (for the right reasons) and leaves a positive lasting impression on the recruiter.
How do you do this in such a competitive environment? Follow our top tips for writing a board-level CV and covering letter.
What can you bring to the table?
You’ve got three big questions to answer:
- How can you show you are ready for this particular non-executive board role?
- What skills, experience and perspective will you bring to the role, and do they match what the organisation is looking for?
- What interests you about the organisation?
When you’re writing your application you need to make sure your CV and supporting statement cover all three. Use this opportunity to showcase your personality and character, and demonstrate your professionalism, competence and communication skills. Firing off a generic blanket CV and cover letter isn’t going to cut it – you’ll be surprised by the number of people that do this. You must take your time to tailor each application to the role you are applying for.
Preparation is key
Before you jump into writing your cv and cover letter, take a step back to gather all of your information and facts and follow these three steps:
Step 1 – Research
Get to know the organisation and what they’re looking for. Read everything in the advert thoroughly, including the candidate pack and any other information/ links provided. Do your research on the organisation: look them up on Companies House, read their annual accounts. Talk to anyone you know who might know about them, read their blogs, read news articles about them, and check out their social media. If possible, look at the skills, experiences and perspectives of the existing board members (you can often find this on their website). Find out what you can about the market they operate in. Make sure you understand the role and what they’re looking for: is it a director, advisor or committee member? Find out more about the difference in our blog here. Feel like you need to spend more time understanding the role of the non-exec? Read our blog here.
Step 2 – Brainstorm your answers to the three big questions
Be honest with yourself. Give this time, it’ll make writing the CV and cover letter much easier. Talk it through with someone who knows you well, they may be able to remind you of things you’ve forgotten.
Step 3 – Get in contact
If an informal conversation with a board member or recruiter is offered, use this as another opportunity to really get to know the organisation and what they’re looking for. You can also ask questions to make sure the role is right for you, e.g. “I don’t live in the Sheffield area, but I grew up there and still have family in the area and I’m happy to travel to attend board meetings. I noticed you have said you are looking for someone living locally, would I be eligible?”. If you make a good impression, they may remember your name and look out for your application.
All systems go
Congratulations! You are now ready to write your CV and supporting statement. Here are some suggestions of what to include. Before you start, always remember to double check what the advert and guidance say. Sometimes they ask you to keep your CV to a certain number of pages, or to answer specific questions in your supporting statement.
Top things to include in your NED CV
First, let’s focus on pulling together a winning CV. Let’s look at some things to include:
A summary of who you are and career or experience highlights
You want some interesting soundbites here to hook in the recruiter. Whatever you write in this section, keep the following in mind – if they didn’t read on, would they know enough about you to spark their interest?
- Summarise your key skills (e.g. strategy, marketing), sectors you have experience in (e.g. fintech), qualifications (e.g. chartered accountant), and the markets you’ve worked in (e.g. FTSE, AIM, Housing Associations, VC, start-ups…)
- Highlight big achievements (e.g. increased revenue from X to Y, lead a team of 30 age 27, winner of ** award…), and experiences (e.g. turn around, IPO, raising seed investment round).
- Show you understand what the most important skills are for a Non-Executive Director role and highlight that you have those skills. E.g. risk management and mitigation, succession planning, corporate governance, shareholder and stakeholder engagement, performance monitoring, growth.
- This is essentially your personal sales document so now is not the time to be humble. But it also isn’t the time to brag with vague and sweeping declarations like “Excellent at Press and Comms”. Be clear and precise with your language and also factual in your statements e.g. “Nine years as Head of Comms at two UK SMEs, both in the manufacturing and industrial sectors”.
- Mention your soft skills too. Things like: analytical skills, interpersonal skills, conflict resolution, leadership style, problem solving, diplomacy.
Your board experience
This is probably the biggest change from your ‘normal’ CV. Your ‘board experience’ section should come before your chronological career experience.
- What board, or board-like experiences have you had? This could include: executive or non-executive roles on a board, company secretariat, observer seats on a board, experience near board level (exec minus one) should also be mentioned, as should pitching to the board, consulting to the board or attending board meetings, charity trustee roles, start-up boards etc. Have you been on any subcommittees? E.g. Audit, Risk, Remuneration. Be clear what your role was and whether it was a ‘director’ role or not.
- In each instance, share an insight into what value you brought to that board. What difference did you make?
- Remember that whilst you may be emphasising the ‘technology’ skills that you bring to a board, you will be expected to speak into multiple areas of the organisation. So be sure to mention other things you’ve influenced e.g. finance, governance. Give evidence here for the soft skills you mentioned in the summary.
- If you haven’t had board experience then emphasise how your experience connects into a board environment, what makes you want to join a board and what makes you ready. Don’t worry we all have to start somewhere!
Your career experience
This is the more traditional CV section. We recommend you include:
- Where you have worked, what were you responsible for, and what you achieved. Be as specific as possible. Don’t forget voluntary roles, too.
- Revisit your “normal” CV and focus it more on high level, strategic and board skills and experience.
- Make sure this section chimes with what you said in the opening paragraph. Draw out evidence of those skills and experiences in your career experience to date.
Your education, qualifications and awards
List your qualifications in order of the most recent and most relevant first.
- Education: include any degree level qualifications or equivalent.
- Professional qualifications and certifications.
- Relevant training: e.g. non-executive director training or governance training you have had (this definitely isn’t a requirement).
- Awards: relevant professional awards, with details as to what you won it for.
- Regulatory positions: e.g. PRA SMF16.
- Memberships to professional bodies or relevant organisations.
We’re all humans, show that here and let them learn more about you personally!
- Mention something that you enjoy outside of work but keep it short. It’s a bonus if this is relevant to the organisation but not essential.
References (if required)
Some organisations request that you state two or more referees. A few things to be aware of if you choose to do this are:
- Make sure you get the referee’s permission prior to writing them down. Share their name, title, and when you worked together. Don’t provide their contact details; wait until you are asked for those at the interview stage.
Don’t forget the CV basics:
- Good spelling, grammar and a clear layout! Choose a font that is clean and legible and set the font size to minimum 11, ideally 12.
- Spell out any acronyms or jargon: don’t assume the person reading it will know them.
- Include the basics at the top: Full name, Email address, Phone number, Location – e.g. Leeds (doesn’t need to be full address), LinkedIn URL (visit your own page on LinkedIn, and copy and paste the URL that appears e.g. https://www.linkedin.com/in/sarahrpierman/).
- When you mention an organisation you’ve worked with or for, indicate its turnover or number of employees, to give an idea of scale.
- For specific roles, ensure you include formal organisation names, role titles, dates of where you worked when. And put the most recent roles at the top. For education and training include dates.
- Length – how long should your NED CV be? it’s debatable, some recommend 2 pages, some say max 4 pages. We’d recommend 2 pages. Check if there are specific requirements on the advert.
- PDF or Word version? We’d recommend sending it as a PDF unless they’ve asked for it in Word, as that way you can be certain they will view your CV in the formatting you set out. To save as a PDF: if you are using Word, click ‘save as’ and where it says file type, select ‘pdf’. If you’re an Apple user, still stick with the trusty pdf format and don’t be tempted to use Pages.
- Don’t plaster the word ‘CV’ at the top of the document. Instead,write your name in big letters. They know what it is already so use the real estate on the page to make your name stand out!
- Always save the file name as your ‘name’, ‘CV’, and the ‘role’ you are applying for. If the role description requests you quote a specific reference number, then be sure to add that in too.
Top things to demonstrate in your NED cover letter
With the CV out of the way, let’s focus on the often overlooked cover letter. This document complements your CV and makes it easy for the recruiter to see how your experience and interests connect to the role. It’s another attempt at convincing the employer to interview you so really take your time on it and think about what you want to say.
- How you align with their organisation. Think about why you are passionate about this role and what attracted you to it. Link your personal interest to their specific mission/ purpose. Look back at your brainstorm notes to help with this., Make sure that you are honest about what interests you about the organisation and why.
- Why you are a good candidate for the role. Reflect back to the advert or brief: what skills and experience did they say they are looking for? Make sure you have highlighted your experience in those areas. If you think you have other skills, experiences or a perspective that will add to the mix on their board in a way that they didn’t specifically state that they require, this is the time to get that across too.
- How you are ready for their non-executive role. If this is your first board role, show that you appreciate the difference between exec and non-exec roles. As with the CV, consider board or board-like experience, show that you see the difference, but don’t let titles hold you back from explaining the relevant experience you have. If you already have board experience, highlight what you’ve learned and have been able to contribute and why this is a good fit for both you and them.
- Recognise the context of ‘now’. Show you understand the strategic moment in time that the organisation is facing; its goals, ambitions and challenges and how your skills/experience can help them with that.
- Share your research on the organisation. Detail the insights you have gained through that research.
- Share your skills, experience, perspective, training, achievements. Are there any big obvious things you want to make sure they know about you? Don’t just leave it to chance as to whether they spotted them in your CV, mention it here too.
- Don’t let the elephant in the room take your seat! If you are aware of any concerns they may have about appointing you and address these points head on e.g. you have no prior board experience, you are young, have no higher level qualifications, don’t live near the office, have a full-time role alongside this etc. Tell them why that issue will not be a problem, and even how it gives you a fresh perspective on the role. Address any significant gaps in your CV if applicable.
Don’t forget the cover letter basics:
- Check the candidate pack/ advert to see if they have asked you to address any specific points in your cover letter.
- Address your cover letter to the current chair of the board, unless you specifically know the application will be considered by someone else.
- Keep it to no more than two pages (unless they’ve told you otherwise).
- Always save your cover letter file name as your ‘name’, ‘Cover letter’, and the ‘role’ you are applying for. Again, you might also need to include a reference number here if they’ve asked you to, so read the details carefully.
With your CV and cover letter finally complete, set it aside and come back to it with a fresh mind and perspective later on. It’s harder to critique a document with tired eyes which you have been intensely focused on for a long period of time. Here are some final steps to complete before sending it off:
Step 4 – Double check you’ve answered the big three questions!
Have a look back at your brainstorm. Was it crystal clear then? And is it clear now in your CV and cover letter?
Step 5 – Find someone who can review it for you.
If you know someone with board experience, ask them. If you can ask someone who knows you well and can make sure you are drawing out all of your skills, even better. Don’t be afraid of feedback.
Step 6 – Apply!
Make sure you’ve done everything they’ve asked for in the application (including any other forms) and sent it to the right person by the deadline.
Good luck from us!
The Dynamic Boards Team
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