It’s common for Dutch employers to ask for a cover letter. Usually, the job application states if you need to write one. When that’s the case, it’s important to make it as good as your CV. But, even if it’s not a job application requirement, you might want to include one anyway. It never hurts to show your motivation to a potential employer.
The Blue Lynx team of international recruiters knows what a good cover letter looks like. After reading this article, you will do too. So, let’s dive in! Learn about cover letter structure, good and bad practices and how to write yours well.
Short on time? Skip to the most important bits of this article:
- Standard Structure of a Cover Letter (+ a free downloadable cover letter template)
- 3 Golden Rules for Cover Letters
- Good and Bad Cover Letter Writing Practices
- A Cover Letter Example and Analysis
Letter of Motivation vs Cover Letter: What Is the Difference
After spending some time in the job searching process, you might start seeing it with different names.
A letter of motivation, cover letter, motivation letter. So many titles. But is it the same thing?
The Dutch word for it ‘motivatiebrief’ [pronounced mo-tee-va’-tee-eh brief] can mean any of those. You can encounter them in the context of both a job and university application. Here we will focus on the motivatiebrief for job vacancies.
The Standard Structure of the Cover Letter
Start your job hunt with the basics of cover letter writing. First things first – the layout. In terms of appearance, aim to match your CV and cover letter. This includes fonts, colours and formatting.
In a standard cover letter, you have:
- Personal information and contact details
- A formal salutation (Dear Hiring Manager or a name)
- Introduction paragraph (clearly stating the job you are applying for and the company)
- Main body with 2-3 paragraphs
- Closing paragraph (the ‘Thank you for your time’ part)
Don’t know how to write your cover letter? Need some inspiration?
Now that we have the basic structure down, let’s move to the content. Whether you use our cover letter template or come up with your own, it’s what you say in it that matters. Cover letters are brief and concise. In terms of length, one page is the go-to.
3 Golden Rules for Writing a Good Cover Letter:
- Make it personal – ditch the usual phrases
- Focus it on the company – show you’ve done your research
- Make it a natural extension of your CV, not a re-write
If you manage to follow these 3 rules, your cover letter will undoubtedly make a good impression. Now let’s look at some more practices.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Cover Letter Edition
In addition to the 3 golden rules from above, you will also want to do the following:
Focus on key skills
Work experience is important. But what’s more important is that you can extract the hard and soft skills you have gained through it. This should be the focus of the cover letter’s main body. Think about the type of skills this job requires. Find examples in your work experience that support your statement.
Show real motivation
If the employer requests that you write a letter of motivation, then you need to demonstrate your passion. Show that you know the company’s values and that you are truly motivated by its mission. This is not just a way to stroke your potential employer’s ego. It shows you know what the company stands for.
Share relocation details
If you don’t reside in the Netherlands or in the city where the job is based, it’s good to mention your relocation plans.
These are the don’ts of writing a cover letter job seekers should keep in mind. These are easy pitfalls to miss.
Cover letter sounding way too vague
Some people struggle with writing in general. For them especially, it’s easy to start using cliché and vague expressions. Think sentences like “I admire your company’s great reputation in the industry.” This could be copied and pasted across all your cover letters. Be more specific and use actual examples of what’s so great about the company.
Re-writing your CV
One thing a cover letter is not is your CV. It may seem obvious but many people don’t get that. Instead of listing all your work experience, write about what it has taught you. Then, relate all that to the position you are applying for.
Typos and bad formatting
Just like with your CV, the devil is in the details. Typos and grammar error leave a bad impression. You want to demonstrate a good eye for details. Have your letter proofread by a friend or a family member before sending it out.
There are some bigger fails when it comes to writing a cover letter. Do your best to avoid those:
Putting the wrong company name
We’ve seen those and we cringe every time. Such mistakes usually happen when you are using the same cover letter template for every job application. To avoid this, tailor the text to each employer individually.
No matter what you do, don’t lie on your cover (in your CV, as well). You won’t be doing yourself any favour, even if you get hired.
Here’s a Cover Letter Example (A very honest one too)
Source: Reddit. Click the photo to open it larger in a new tab.
Here’s also a transcription of the main body:
“To Whom It May Concern:
I am a driven and keen individual looking to work within the field of ____. However, the world is currently giving me a gigantic middle finger in terms of employment prospects; so I’m hoping to offer my services to the place I’ve probably spent one third of my time in since moving to _____. Despite having attended university, I assure you I’m possessed of a wide range of useful skills;
- I have worked as a nursery hand at ___ am an avid gardener, along with a scientific understanding of soil and plant ecology, and a familiarity with a wide range of plant species.
- I have my own vehicle, and am available at any time for any length.
- Between myself and my father, I have an almost encyclopaedic understanding of the store layout.
- Being raised by an Engineer and industrial arts teacher, I have a moderate understanding of common building materials and basic requirements, including the difference between gyprock and wood screws, and the joy of PVA. I’ve completed numerous DIY projects of varying scales, from garden construction to household fixes and shelving, and can offer basic advice.
- I’m a creative thinker, and am good at visualising solutions to unique problems, which could be useful both in-store and to customers.
- I have a natural space bubble of around 2 metres, so will not struggle with maintaining social distance.
- I have undergone military training and over a decade in retail, and as such respond appropriately and calmly to hostile treatment. I can even bayonet them if need be, and my grouping isn’t had either.
- I maintain a combat-ready level of fitness, and am more than capable of strenuous physical activity that pallet-jacking and shelf-stocking may involve.
- I have developed excellent interpersonal skills during my various stabs at careers, and understand the need for tailored and sensible approach in successful professional interactions. As an avid baker, I’m also great for team morale.
- I’m 30, friendless and childless, so am statistically unlikely to call in sick due to hangovers.
While I will jump ship the moment I receive an offer applicable to my chosen career path, you shouldn’t worry about that being too soon, as I’ve job-hunting since October, and that was before this ship floated sideways. I will work hard and be an asset.”
This is a very good cover letter example for a few reasons. First of all, we are not going to focus on punctuation, spelling and grammar. You can easily check those with writing software like Grammarly. Instead, let’s talk about what this person did right and what they could have done better. See the table below.
|The good||Up for improvement|
|Making it very personal, telling a story||Using foul language|
|Referencing experience but focusing on hard and soft skills||Not showing enough motivation to work in this particular company|
|Using honesty and a sense of humour||Being too honest (“I would jump ship for a better offer”)|
|Showing a good understanding of specific requirements||Showing that you are super desperate to get the job (“I’ve been job hunting for months”)|
Your Turn to Write a Fantastic Motivatiebrief
Follow all these tips and you should have the perfect cover letter in your hand (or in a computer folder). Now what? As good as they might be, a CV and a cover letter alone can’t get you the job. You still have the interview process. If you are feeling a bit nervous about that part, check out our job interview tips for some inspiration.