Applying for a semester abroad or a job position: How to succeed with your motivational letter!

In an interview with WU’s Blog, career counselor Robert Langer explains the most important aspects of writing a successful motivation letter. Good to know: Together with the International Office, the WU ZBP Career Center organizes workshops on the topic of motivation letters. The focus lies on the application for a semester abroad; however, the techniques and creative approaches are universally applicable and can also be used in a professional context.

WU Blog: Letters of motivation are not only important when applying for a stay abroad, but are also required in a professional context. Do you have two tips that WU students can use to approach the topic?

Robert Langer: Tip 1: It is very important to go into detail about the company and the position. If the recruiter has the feeling that the letter is a copy-paste message that can be sent to any company by simply exchanging the address and contact person, it will hardly succeed in leaving a positive impression.

For me, a successful motivation letter is free of phrases and clichés. Recruiters read these sentences all too often and they certainly do not help to make a lasting impression.

Tip 2: I often see motivation letters in which the tabular listing of relevant details from the CV has been turned into an almost identical presentation in sentence form. However, the motivation letter is the chance to provide recruiters with additional information. It is therefore a good idea to use examples of personal strengths and expertise to show the benefit that you can bring to the company.

WU Blog: Just like the CV, the motivation letter should also fit the person. What does this statement mean? Why should you make sure that both are coherent?

Robert Langer: In most cases, the application documents are the first impression you make on a company. For this reason, it is crucial for applicants to present themselves honestly, authentically, and from their best side. Whether application documents are reduced to the essentials or provided with a special structure, colors and symbols, is up to the individual taste of the applicants.

WU Blog: How can you actually recognize a well-written motivation letter?

Robert Langer: For me, a successful motivation letter is free of phrases and clichés such as “… therefore I would now like to apply my theoretical knowledge in practice”. Recruiters read such sentences all too often and they certainly do not help to make a lasting impression. It is much more interesting to find out what specific knowledge candidates bring with them and where they have already successfully applied it. If recruiters also sense motivation for the position and the company, they are likely to pick up the phone and make an appointment for an interview.

WU Blog: Some students are overwhelmed at the beginning and experience a kind of writer’s block. What is the smartest way to approach it?

Robert Langer: Go through the job advertisement and the information gathered about the company and consider where there are overlaps. Then write down the areas of overlap and think about how you could link this to your qualification and motivation. If you are not satisfied with the result, we career counselors at the WU ZBP Career Center are always available for feedback. Our Online Classroom will also provide you with helpful tips!

WU Blog: The WU ZBP Career Center and the International Office jointly offer workshops on how to write a good motivational letter. Can you describe a little bit what the participants can expect in the workshops? For whom is this format intended?

Robert Langer: The format is aimed at all students who want to write an exciting motivation letter for their application for a semester abroad. In addition to numerous tips on DOs & DON’Ts, we also include a simple exercise that helps you to get into a flow for creative writing.

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In all matters concerning the job market and job entry, the WU ZBP Career Center offers students and graduates valuable support. The counseling services offered by the WU ZBP Career Center are just as diverse as the professional world itself. Interested students and graduates are welcome to participate in a career counseling, a coaching or a Guided Self-Assessment.