Like many others, I wanted to pursue a career in international affairs after graduating, but quickly realized how tough it would be to find a job in this field. So I decided to volunteer as an assistant recruiter at an NGO for a few months, in order to gain experience and to improve my understanding of what it would take. Based on this knowledge, here are my tips on how to write an appealing cover letter. (Featured Image © Pexels)
At the Human Resources Department, I read many CV’s and motivation letters, and attended some job interviews. By doing so, I learned about common made mistakes and tips for job applications. I already wrote an article with CV advice, and after the current article I plan to provide you with some final job interview tips. Hopefully, this will help you succeed in your next job application!
As I mentioned in my previous article, personal preferences, as well as organizational and cultural norms, might differ. Always make a personal assessment of what suits you best and what corresponds with the organization you are applying to.
Avoid These Common Mistakes
It might seem obvious, but I have seen grammar errors, sloppy layouts, different fonts being used in the same letter, cover letters of more than one page long, and CV’s and cover letters in Word-format instead of PDF. These errors do not leave behind a good first impression, so make sure to pay attention to the details.
The CV only shows your work experience, while the cover letter explains your motivation and the background story of your application
As to the content of your letter, there are some common pitfalls to avoid as well. First of all, do not repeat the content of your CV in your letter, because the cover letter serves a different purpose. This letter should be seen as complementary to the CV and together they form your application. The CV only shows your work experience, while the cover letter explains your motivation and the background story of your application.
Secondly, never start your letter with a standard phrase such as “through this way I am applying for position X”, as nothing is more boring for a recruiter as repeatedly reading the same generic sentences. To stand out from the large pile of applications, you can start your cover letter with a catchy anecdote. Try to make your letter a bit personal and thus, avoid clichés. Storytelling – narrate your writing into a chronological story – can be an appealing way to attract the attention of the recruiter.
For every application, write a new, customized cover letter. Do not use a general letter for your applications as the recruiter can tell whether you really paid attention to the job description. If you carefully read the vacancy text and study the website of the organization you are applying to, you can make sure the discourse of your letter matches that of the organization.
Storytelling can be an appealing way to attract the attention of the recruiter
Ironically, another common mistake is forgetting to explain why you want to work for this specific organization, in this position. The next section of this article covers main questions to answer in your letter, to ensure you conveyed your enthusiasm.
Three Questions to Answer
First of all, why do you want to work for this organization? Show them why you would fit in and why you care about their objectives. Make sure you relate your answer to the values of the organization you wish to be part of, while remaining sincere. If you studied something related to international affairs, explain what motivated you to do so. Explain your values and how you ended up caring for certain topics relevant to the application, such as human rights, migration and conflict prevention. Personal stories or anecdotes of internships and travels can help to address this question.
Show them why you would fit in and why you care about their objectives
By doing this, the recruiter better understands who you are, while you simultaneously emphasize your extracurricular experiences. It is also recommended to explain why you chose the field in which this organization is active. For example, explain more generally why you want to work for a research- or academic institute, a (non-/inter-)governmental organization, or a for-profit organization.
Secondly, why do you want this specific position? Refer to former experiences to show how you ended up applying for this vacancy. Explain what made you realize this is the perfect job for you. By mentioning the competences that are necessary for this position, you show that you know what it takes to perform well in this job.
Instead of merely stating that you can do X, you should prove through experience Y that you learned X
Instead of merely stating that you can do X, you should prove through experience Y that you learned X. To explain, if networking is a requested competence, you can bring up your Model United Nations experience and mention what you learned from it in terms of networking.
Last but not least, why are you the best candidate? Tell what is unique about you to make sure that you stand out from the crowd. Explain which characteristics describe you, which network you bring to the table, what you are eager to learn, and what you want to achieve in this position.
Again, Good Luck!
Once you finalized your application, you can share your CV and cover letter together with the vacancy text amongst friends, to collect feedback.
When implementing the tips for your CV from the former article and addressing the above-mentioned topics in your cover letter, you leave the recruiter behind with a good sense of your qualifications. Subsequently, you might receive an invitation for an interview. If you read the next and last article of this series, you will be able to prepare yourself well for the job interview too.