Statement of purpose. Cover Letter. Motivation letter.
It does not matter at all how we call it and what is the main objective. The fact remains the same: motivation can be a key to getting what you want whether we are talking about university admission, scholarship or job application.
Cover Letter is your chance to talk directly to the person responsible for your future, create a special connection with him and show yourself from the best side to ensure the desirable outcome.
Today I want to share with you some high-level ideas that can help you to show your motivation using a cover letter.
1. Show your integrity & think big
Integrity is one of the most respected and admired qualities of people. Ideally, you need to demonstrate it in your cover letter. Try to prove that you are a grown-up personality with a clear understanding of his life objectives and ways to achieve it. If you do not know what you want in your life, how can someone else help you achieve it?
Your integrated vision can be easily demonstrated in your essay with the simplest logical chain: “to realize X first I need to do Y that can be achieved through Z” or “Z will help me to do Y, so I can realize X”
What are these mysterious X, Y, Z?
- X – your big long-term objective – your overall big ambition and dream, something you truly care about and want to contribute to in your life
- Y – your smaller short-term objective – aim directly connected with the overall purpose of your motivation letter
- Z – selected method – basically the thing you are applying for
- I am applying for a software engineer position at IBM (Z) to become a highly experienced and respected professional in the IT sphere (Y) to make my own contribution to the changing role of women in tech (X)
- I am applying for a scholarship to do a research internship at KU Leuven (Z) to master my knowledge in biochemistry and learn best practices from the best professors in the field (Y) to contribute to the development and improvement of the scientific research process in my native country – Russia (X)
- I am very interested in the Bocconi MBA program (Z) because it can help me to develop all necessary skills to succeed in my career as a consultant (Y), which is extremely important to achieve my overall aim – helping Italian companies to become more competitive in the international markets (X)
With one simple sentence, we managed not only to demonstrate our integrity as a personality but also to give a logical explanation why the thing we are applying for is the best next move to achieve what we want in our life.
And don’t be afraid to think big. No one has ever been punished for big ambitions or having a dream. The desire to make a big impact is already the first step to making it.
2. Show that you care – do not talk to a wall
“Your cover letter should be personal, you can not just copy-paste and resend it from one employer/university to another”. Probably all of us have heard this phrase a million times.
It is not enough just to be good and satisfy all the requirements. Nowadays organizations are also looking for a cultural fit because without it a candidate will not be able to realize his potential. Being personal in your motivation letter is the way to demonstrate this fit.
To begin with, it is crucial to understand who is a decision maker at the current stage of the selection process. I think that there is no need to explain how important it is, at least, to find out a name of the recruiter/hiring manager, who posted a position to communicate directly to the person and not to a random “dear Mr/Mrs”.
If you want to personalize more, a proper research on the background and interests of this person might be helpful. Do not forget the simple scientifically proven concept – unconsciously we are attracted to people who are similar to us and even if we have a little piece of information about someone being similar to us, we seem to make more positive conclusions about him. Therefore, an indirect mentioning of features in common with a recruiter can help you create a special bond with him.
- If you are applying for a consulting internship and you found out that the hiring manager has a deeper focus on the healthcare sector, it could be nice to use real-life examples from this particular industry – even if it is something small (f.e. working on a case about recent Ebola outbreak prevention during SBG last year)
- If you know that your recruiter knows many foreign languages, you should definitely mention your similar interest (even if you are a beginner or just planning to start with a new language)
- If you found out that the person in charge is a crazy football fan, you could mention how playing in the university football team for several years in a raw taught you to work in a team and listen to others
3. Show that you care – do your homework and do it well
A further step is to show that we know exactly what we are applying for and where it will lead us. The only way to do it is again a good research.
Start your research with studying company/university/scholarship website, but never stop there. Take advantage of all the available information sources – the limit is just your imagination: websites, articles, specialized company/university rankings, reviews, linked in, interviews, blogs and other. The sections of our biggest interest are the organization overview, vision, mission, values, strategy, people, and news.
It is crucial to understand the basic information about the organization: how it was formed, how it realized growth, what is the main activity focus and where they operate.
- Vision, Mission and Values
What is the ultimate purpose of this organization? What is their big goal and ambition? Why does it exist and Why do people get up every day to go to work? What do they care about most of all?
Ask yourself these questions and I would advise even to write answers down to have it right in front of your eyes all the time while you are working on the essay. Each idea should be tested for ‘culture fit’ – ability to demonstrate that you do care about the same values and you are eager to fight for it if needed.
Where is the company going and how? What are the main objectives? You could also think more strategically and focus on what your skills/qualities might help the organization to realize its strategy.
- If your company is planning a rapid expansion into the Latin American market, your good Spanish skills are definitely worth mentioning
- If the university you are applying for wants to build strategic relationships with more firms to refocus from being ‘academic’ to being ‘business-oriented’, you can leverage your previous experience of being a part of the biggest student organization student organization and working on the development of partnership agreements with companies to organize practice-oriented educational events for students
What is currently happening in the organization? What are people discussing there today over lunch and what is the thing that keeps top management awake at nights? This is incredibly important to know all these points for your interview, but mentioning it indirectly in the motivation letter can also work.
- The company you are applying for has recently completed a big acquisition and you happened to spend all last summer in the library writing your MSc thesis about post-merger integration from the HR perspective. Isn’t it a perfect match?
- The university of your interest is organizing an open discussion of the situation with refugees in Europe and you are really interested in this topic. It could be good to mention that attending open-discussions like this, where you can share your opinion on urgent topics with other interested people, is one of the reasons you want to study there
Do not forget that people are standing behind everything, therefore, it is the most important point.
If you have a chance, always network with people directly from the organization, ask them questions to understand better the nature of all points mentioned earlier (organization overview, vision, mission, values, strategy, news) and just build a personal relationship with them. There is no better competitive advantage than an insight information and no better view of the situation than an internal one.
Also, it is very useful to understand the overall picture of people dynamics: who are studying/working there, what is their background and where they went after. It will help you to evaluate your chances to get inside in comparison with an average candidate, provide you some insight about your potential colleagues and tell you about your possible exit options. Again, networking and linked in statistics will help you to gain this insights.
Do your research properly and you will find something interesting to mention in your essay regarding people connected with this organization.
- Are you planning to write a thesis about corporate responsibility and you managed to find a university professor who has a significant experience with this topic? Include it in your essay sharing that you really would like to work on your future thesis particularly with that professor, since his academic paper redlect the way you approach the problem
- You saw a TED-lecture given by one of the company executives about trends in the industry and it motivated you to apply to this company in particular. Share it.
- Have you just found that one of the brightest leaders of the modern corporate world – Unilever CEO Paul Polman – has graduated from the University if Groningen, where you want to do your MSc? You can always mention that because mostly universities are extremely proud of their brightest alumni and the reaction should be positive
In case you are applying for analytical positions/studies, remember that the research on the company/university is your fist chance to show your strong analytical skills and we all know that the first impression lasts, therefore, take your time to do it properly.
4. Motivate them – show the synergies
After you have demonstrated your motivation to be right there where you want to be, it is time to motivate another party to let you be there.
The biggest mistake people make at this stage is confusing motivation letter with your resume and starting to repeat your CV one more time. It is crucial to understand that the focus of resume is you and your past while the focus of cover letter is your potential employer/university and your future together.
Speaking in economic terms, you should demonstrate a significant amount of synergies resulting from what you want (university admission/receiving a job). For those, who are unfamiliar with the concept of synergies, the main idea is 1+1=3: the combination of two parts are greater than the sum of the separate individual parts. Your main objective should be to show how the organization will benefit more in the future with you than without you.
The most important information – what the organization is looking for – usually is pretty straightforward and can be found in the potential candidate profiles/ future job responsibilities and requirements. Now it is very important to structure everything to help recruiter/evaluator easily ”tick all the requirement boxes”. Be very specific: one good real-life example is much more valuable than a paragraph of experience discussion. Always use the STAR (situation – task – action – result) framework to introduce real-life examples, never underestimate your personal impact, quantify achieved results and try to connect it with the potential future value increase for an employer.
- Required skill – PR strategy
- During my part-time role as a BAT test ambassador (S), I had to develop a PR strategy to promote the test within students (T). Successful development strategy and promotional activity on campus (A) resulted in 389 KUL students taking the BAT test during the academic year, which made KU Leuven the “EMEA SILVER University Campus” with the second largest number of test takers per year in EMEA (R). I am sure that the knowledge I gained working with students will help me to add some bright up-to-date insights into existing junior recruitment strategy of company X to attract the best graduates (connection with future employer value)
After the match is found regarding what the organization is looking for and what you can give them, do not forget to include bigger issues that you can potentially affect (company vision/mission/strategy – discussed earlier).
5. Do not be afraid to be different
Who said that a motivation letter should always be a boring, black and white, one-page word file? If you really want it to stand out, you should think out of the box.
- Spend more time on your beginning and conclusion
Try to make it less standard, brighter and easy to remember. In psychology there is even a special term explaining why it is so important – serial position effect – a tendency of a person to recall the first and last items of information much better than everything in between.
There are plenty of ways to make beginnings/conclusions brighter, such as telling short real-life story affecting your choice, including a quote that represents your mentality, rhetoric questions, using statistics or other interesting numbers about personal experience or just sharing your long-term ambitions and dreams.
However, applying all these techniques, do not forget about the most important task – to sum up the overall content and purpose of your essay.
- Experiment with the overall design of the essay
Do not treat the essay as a simple document, treat it as a chance to demonstrate your commitment to the company/university/program and show who you are and how much you can do to achieve your goal.
Have you read the story about the girl landing a dream job in AirBnb after several attempts by creating a website mirroring AirBnb one to demonstrate her motivation and discuss the potential for AirBnb business improvement? And this is not the only example of website-based motivation letters.
If you think that creating a website is the way too much, you always can create nice presentations. If you are good with ppt, it will not take much time to copy the website design, company fonts and then just create one-page pdf with your motivation letter. Below you can find several examples:
If you want more, you can even think about creating a Prezi file or recording a video.
However, please always think how appropriate ‘this creativity’ is in your particular case. You can not select the same approach if you are applying for a position in a hot tech startup or for an IB internship. Industry ethics matters a lot.
6. Strive for excellence
And the last advice – take your time. If you really care about something, do not leave writing a motivation letter until the last moment. Reaching excellence is a process of ongoing improvement. Write it, read it, correct it, reread again, work on your vocabulary and phrasing, ask people to read it and provide their feedback, listen to it and take into account. Every small detail matters and you can achieve true excellence only through committing enough time and effort.
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