Employers typically want CVs to be accompanied by motivation letters, and your letter can be a major determinant of whether you proceed to the next recruitment stage. It should help an employer see how suitable you are for a particular job and persuade them to read your CV. By demonstrating your career interests and highlighting your most relevant strengths and experiences, a well written letter can say much about your professionalism as well as how you match the requirements of the post.
You will usually be writing in response to an advertised vacancy but you could also write an open application to a company you would like to work for.
A motivation letter for an open application should emphasise what you can do for the employer rather than what you want from them. Make clear that you understand there may not be any vacancies currently available and your enquiry is open to establish personal contact and stay in touch. Remember to be concise as no one wants to read a lengthy, unsolicited letter.
Motivation letter in response to an advertised vacancy
Your motivation letter is your chance to demonstrate to an employer that you have not picked them at random, but that you want this particular job and have the skills to do it. Employers want candidates who demonstrate their knowledge and enthusiasm for the company. Perhaps you are attracted to them because of a recent high profile project, or their type of client base. If you relate your skills and experience to a specific aspect of their business you will be telling them more than they already know and giving them something to work with. A poorly written letter without good arguments could mean that you are not invited, even when your profile matches the organisation.
When writing your motivation letter, it is important to address the hiring manager or recruiter. This small detail can make a large impact as taking the time to address an individual shows you are detail-oriented and that you put effort into finding out a little more about the company and indicates you have a real interest in the role and company. Avoid using the common phrase “Dear Hiring Manager of Dear Sir/Madam” as it demonstrates lack of effort.
So how do you find the name of the contact person if it isn’t stated on the advert? Well, there are many sources of company information available. You can begin with an internet search: LinkedIn enables you to search the name of the company and roles or company websites often list the names of the leadership team and sometimes other company employees. Alternatively, you can call the company reception or recruitment team directly and ask for the contact name – it’s a perfectly reasonable question.
There is a standard format to most covering letters with slight variations according to circumstances. Aim to use one side of A4 paper, preferably use 2/3 of the A4. Although they are generally short in length, they may take some time to get right. The guidelines below will be useful whether you are applying for a job or sending an open letter.
Why are you writing to the employer?
If you are applying for an advertised job, you should state in the first paragraph where you saw the advertisement and quote any reference numbers. If you are making an open application, be very clear about what type of role you are interested in.
Why do you want this type of work and why are you interested in this employer?
Highlight why you are interested in doing the work. Include some information that shows you have done some research and understand what the company does and what the job might involve.
What are you offering the employer?
Highlight relevant aspects of your skills, knowledge and experience. If the advertisement listed certain essential requirements, then draw brief attention to how you meet these. What is your key strength in relation to the position? Cross-referring to your CV can be useful: 'You will see from my CV that I ...'
Call for action
It is important to close your letter with a positive call to action to the employer e.g. I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss my application further.
A motivation letter should be clear, concise and business-like. Unless you are specifically requested not to, write and present your letter in a formal manner.
- Use plain, clear language. Avoid using overly emotional language such as ‘passionate about’ and ‘love to’ in your letter. Other terms such as ‘enthusiastic’ or ‘committed’ are probably better.
- Apply the 20 second rule. Any paragraph that takes longer than 20 seconds to read is too long. Keep your sentences and your paragraphs short and snappy.
- Use powerful words such as ‘contributed’, ‘influenced’, ‘managed’ and ‘negotiated’, which are proactive and indicate that you have the initiative and ability to make things happen. It stimulates the reader to want to learn more about you.
- Check your letter carefully for typos and spelling errors.
- Cliches: The use of clichés suggests a lack of imagination and independent thought: two things you don't want to demonstrate!
- Imprecision: Indeterminate, vague words may give the impression that you aren't really sure about your qualities or achievements.
- Small-talk: You want to come across as likeable and pleasant, but there is little point in using small-talk when ending your covering letter. Although polite it does nothing to persuade the recipient to reply to you. A better option is to say something positive, such as offering yourself for interview.
- No need to apologise! Concentrate on the positive things you can offer. Your letter should not be apologetic or highlight any negative aspect of you or your background. Some things, such as your age, are what they are. There's no need to assume that they are a difficulty or apologise for them.
- Don’t tell them what they already know, they know!
- Generalisations and unsupported claims: General claims, unsupported by specific evidence, will not help the employer have faith in your abilities or pick you out from the crowd.
Your motivation letter may be the organisation’s first impression of you, so make sure you spend some time on it. If possible, ask someone else to look over it to check it for mistakes. Always keep a copy of your letter for reference.
We advise waiting 7-10 working days before following up your motivation letter by telephone. Come straight to the point. Ask if they have received your application and if they would like you to attend for an interview. Be prepared to be knocked back: success isn't guaranteed, but it does happen and you have nothing to lose.