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What To Do and Not Do On Your Humanitarian Cover Letter

Tuesday, Apr 25, 2017
by Humanitarian Institute


When applying for a professional humanitarian opportunity...

Your Cover Letter provides Aid agencies with insight about who you are, how you came to be that way and the critical skills you possess to get the job done.

For many applications, you’ll also have to write responses to selection criteria. Some organisations require one, some both, and others do not have any, so make sure you check the requirements!Cover Letters are an opportunity to reveal your professional competencies, and to demonstrate to your potential employer why you’re a good fit.

While there’s no set formula to what makes a ‘perfect’ Cover Letter, there are elements global development employers look for when reviewing yours.


Focus on your strengths, aptitudes, and quantifiable results - demonstrate what makes you the best candidate!

The Cover Letter is a window into you, so get to the heart of your identity and professional narrative in the practical examples you select.  

Don't be lazy and generic. Be unique!

Avoid the trap of resorting to quick cliches and generic statements and invest your time in writing a Cover Letter that lets your personality, achievements and past experiences stand out among the hundreds of other applicants! Remember:

Use bullet points where necessaryKeep it to less than one pageThink formatting - margins, font size, spacing and so onCover "Letter” - what does that tell you about document structure?Keep your branding consistent across all application documentationPDF it!



Describing results and achievements, concisely, gives you a greater chance of writing in a unique way, as your experience is your own.

Many applicants get carried away focusing on writing about their competencies only, rather than highlighting how they put these skills to use i.e. demonstrable results from previous professional experiences that align to the job requirements.

Whether you’re discussing surf life saving or project management, the content should offer concise results-based descriptions and avoid generic cliches.


If you’re applying to a humanitarian organisation that requires a response to selection criteria, make sure you do your research.

Being able to show understanding about the organisation you’re applying for such as program focus areas and research or evaluations of interest to you, will position you as a valuable addition to the team.

However, be careful with over-sharing! Don’t just list a bunch of organisational facts. They already know. Weave organisational details into your specific responses to the criteria - this demonstrates a depth of thought, analysis and relevance - all important traits of a successful humanitarian.

Time management

It’s never too early to start writing your Cover Letter!

Most organisations’ release jobs many weeks prior to close. While it’s easy to procrastinate until the last minute, it’s a good idea to start earlier rather than later. This will provide you with more time to research each organisation, improve your Cover Letter and ultimately improve your targeted Resume.

And, yes. Every Cover Letter must be different! Align them to the job requirements and draw from your ‘skills bank’.

Work smarter

On top of this, allow plenty of time to polish. The earlier you begin writing, the more time you provide yourself to edit, and the less likely you are to overlook avoidable slip-ups - spelling, grammar, and sentence structure (active not passive please).


It’s also a good idea to get as many eyes on your Cover Letter as possible - share your writing with a trusted friend, or a colleague and get their feedback before finalising and submitting.

While these insights should give you an idea of what is expected of your humanitarian Cover Letter, remember there is no sure fire, guaranteed set formula.

Try your best, stay true to yourself, trust your knowledge and experiences, and have faith in your writing!

Still unsure - register for our upcoming Aid Career Masterclasses.


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