5 top tips for writing a successful CV and cover letter

How to get the job you want? How to work with the company you want? Dorianne van Schaijk is career advisor at Erasmus Career Services. She shares her top 5 tips for a successful CV and cover letter.

1. Mind the employer’s point of view
‘What your CV looks like, shouldn’t depend on trends, but on the vacancy and the company. Your CV is your personal marketing tool, so tailor it to the job, and keep your future employer in mind. If you apply for a job at a conservative law office, you’re CV and cover letter is different than if you apply for a job at a dynamic multimedia start-up,’ says Van Schaijk. Not only can you vary in the looks of your CV (modern, colourful, et cetera), but also in the information you give about yourself. Some employers find it really important that you show your grades, others would like you to explain your thesis more specifically, and the third does not expect you to explain anything. But whatever the job you apply for requires, always stick to a maximum of two A4-pages. 'In finance and consulting don't even go beyond 1 page.'

2. Get to know the company
‘It’s really important to research the company or institute you’re going to write to,’ Van Schaijk advises. ‘Most students forget this.’ Check out their website. Find out what their mission statement is. Read annual reports. Follow them on social media. Call them if you want to know more.

3. What motivates you?
Many students think: I would like to work for this company, but I wouldn’t mind working for another either and write the same thing to all. Or: As long as somebody gives me a job, I’m happy. This is not the way to get you in. ‘Which division of the company makes your heart beat faster? What do you find fascinating about the vacancy? Your future employer wants to be sure you want to work with them above all, they want to be sure you care. If a lot of students apply for the same starter job, probably all of them are educated enough for it. An important way to stand out in the crowd, and often ignored or neglected, is with a decent motivation,’ says the career adviser.

4. Do some soul searching
Besides getting to know the company, you have to know yourself. What in the vacancy fascinates you and why? Van Schaijk: ‘If you buy a new phone, you also start with assessing what it is you need and then conduct some research. It’s the same with getting a job. It’s very important to have a story. Why did you choose this particular study? What drives you? Which were your favourite courses? What are your interests? What are your life and work values?’

5. Go for an unsolicited applications
Don’t wait till the perfect vacancy appears online. By the time that happens, others see it as well so there’ll be a lot of competition. You don’t even have to wait till the vacancy exists. Van Schaijk: ‘Applying for jobs first of all is about doing research within companies and yourself. If you know what you want and can contribute, you can also try an unsolicited application. Job applicants should behave more like freelancers and find out their specific niche. If you have a solution for a problem a corporation cannot solve itself, they will definitely invite you.’

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