Writing a cover letter — especially if it’s been a long time since your last one — can feel daunting. Where do you begin? What do you say? What do you not say?

Here are five top tips to get you started and help you write a cover letter that will catch the attention of those reading it (in a good way!).

Give yourself a structure.

The three main sections of your letter will be a short introduction, the main body, and a short conclusion. To get started, list the essential (and desirable, if applicable) criteria that are included in the job description and jot down a sentence or two about how you meet each of those. You do not have to write perfect sentences from the word go – this is about getting your ideas out on paper and ensuring that you have thought through how you meet the criteria for the role.

Apply your experience to their organisation.

Think about how your skills and experience would bring value to the organisation where you’re applying. For example, rather than just talking about your extensive network of relevant contacts, talk about how you would use that network to the benefit of this organisation in particular. You need to show the selection panel how your experience applies to this role and to their organisation – they can’t do that thinking for you.

Speak their language.

Look at the website, social media and publications of the organisation where you’re applying and make sure you’re using language and terminology that makes sense to them. For instance, if you’re applying for a role based at a grant-making organisation, some of the terms that could be meaningful might be beneficiaries, evaluation, impact and so on. This tip is particularly important if you are looking to move from one sector to another (e.g., moving from the commercial sector to a not for profit organisation or vice versa).

Address your letter to someone.

Do you know who will be chairing the selection panel for the role? If so, address the letter to that person. Take it a step further and pretend, as you’re writing, that you’re in conversation with this person – how would you approach your letter if you were speaking with them rather writing down what you have to say? This strategy can help you overcome feeling blocked when you don’t know how to express what you’d like to say in a written format.

Ask someone else to review your letter before submitting.

The reviewer should be given two primary tasks: first, to let you know how the letter comes across. Ask your reviewer how they feel while reading your letter – are they intrigued? Bored? Engaged? Second, ask your reviewer to pick up any errors you may have missed. Don’t be the person who says they are good with detail and submits a letter full of typos!

Ultimately, the cover letter is a great opportunity for you to share more about yourself than you can in a CV. Rather than seeing it as a hurdle that needs to be overcome in order to get to interview, try looking at it as a chance to showcase all that you have to offer! Because that’s exactly what it is.


Dr Jenn Allen is a Principal Consultant in our Not for Profit Practice. In addition to being a well-read scholar with both an MSc and a PhD in Education from the University of Oxford, Jenn has a wealth of experience working with foundations and trusts to recruit to both executive and board roles. With a passion for making a difference, Jenn works with her clients to find excellent candidates who are committed to the positive changes they seek to make in the world. You can connect with Jenn on Linkedin or send her an email.