How to write a winning motivation letter

Searching for a job sometimes feels like, well, a full-time job. It can cause a lot of stress and a lot of people like to get it over with as quickly as possible. The most important part of assembling your applications and getting hired quickly is writing a dynamic motivation letter. A motivation letter is what sets yourself apart from all the rest. A good motivation letter can even get you a job at a company that’s not hiring!

What is a motivation letter?

In the Netherlands, a cover letter is often known as a motivation letter. It’s a personalized letter that accompanies your CV. If a CV reflects your statistics, your motivation letter is your biography. The purpose of a motivation letter is to introduce yourself to the company, clarify why you are interested in the role and the organisation, and how your skills and experience could benefit the organisation.

A motivation letter usually has the following structure:

  • A short introduction of who you are

  • Your reason for applying

  • An explanation of why you believe that you’re the right candidate for the job

  • What attracts you to the company

  • A short conclusion

You should always conclude your motivation letter with a sentence stating that you look forward to meeting them to explain in greater detail that what you have outlined earlier in your letter. And don’t forget to add all your contact details in the email accompanying your letter!

Tailor made for the perfect fit

Don’t just blast the same generic letter to every company with a vacancy. Tailoring your motivation letter to the role you’re applying for will greatly increase your chances of success. Don’t forget, in the Netherlands a catchy application and motivation letter, both content and design wise, is sometimes more important than an impressive grade list.

Take your time on a handful of thoughtful applications which you can shuffle through and tailor to fit the company you’re applying for. Do your homework! Using particular language or flair with one company might just be the thing that gets you an interview. Whereas with another, it may be frowned upon. A financial firm will likely expect you to write pointedly and focus on your qualifications. An easy-going letter could cost you an interview. However, with a creative agency, that same letter might get you the job.

It’s all about standing out from the crowd and doing it in the right tone of voice. As an expat you even have a secret weapon which might help set you apart from the rest. Being from somewhere else makes you memorable. Always include where you are from in your opening paragraph. You can also briefly mention how long you have lived in the Netherlands and what brought you here. In a sea of similar applicants, you want to show them who you are. Companies will value your outside perspective to diversify their team.

Be direct

The Netherlands has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the EU. So your motivation letter is critical in this competitive job market. However, that doesn’t mean it should include your whole life story. The Dutch are direct and this directness should extend to your tone of voice as well.

Steer clear of flowery expressions by avoiding terms like “super pumped” or being “overjoyed!”. Even though you might be feeling that way, the Dutch can misinterpret these statements as condescending or overenthusiastic. You also shouldn’t waste time with ambiguity. Instead of writing: “I am proficient in social media”, use action words and let them know exactly what you did. For example: “I produced videos for an online series promoting social justice, the series reached 10.000 people daily”. Show! Don’t tell, even when it’s written.

Hack the system

Oftentimes, large companies get over a 100 applications per week and they do not have the time to read every application they receive. Unfortunately, that could mean that your motivation letter doesn’t even reach the reading pile. But there are ways to hack the system.

Oftentimes, CV’s and motivation letters are screened by systems programmed to pick up on certain keywords. If you don’t include these magic words, the chance of your letter making it onto the screen of the hiring manager drops drastically. A quick google search on the best keywords to use when applying to your industry will yield you the answers you need. On top of that you should learn the magic of mirroring! Which keywords does the company use in their vacancy and on their website? Once you have gathered all these keywords you should sprinkle them throughout your motivation letter as well as your CV and email.

A last tip to hack the system: be smart to whom you address your motivation letter and application. Do your detective work on the company’s website or on LinkedIn to see who may be reviewing your application. Address your letter directly to them. If that is not possible to determine, avoid stale openers like “to whom it may concern”. This indicates that you may be pasting the same motivation letter into every application. If the company is creative or young you could open your letter with: “Dear future colleague”. As long as it fits with the tone of voice of the company it should be good, and you have another fun way of standing out from the crowd.

With these tips you will be sure to write a winning motivation letter that sets you apart from the rest and gets you that dream job in no time! Now all you need is a strong CV and you’re all set. Curious how to hack your CV as well? Check out our CV writing tips here.

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