You may have the grades and the experience. But do you ever wonder why you didn’t make the cut?

Sometimes motivation letters are what really sets you apart from other candidates; both for work and a university application.

That’s why we at Start Me Up highly emphasize the importance of a strong motivation letter.

But they’re not always easy. Making an exceptional piece of writing is a challenge in itself. And having to self-promote can be tough for some of us.

There are plenty of variables to keep in mind. Tone and word choice can make the difference between sounding ambitious or sounding arrogant. We’ve created a list of do’s and don’ts that will help you improve your motivation letter.

Don’t: imitate other people’s motivation letter

This is a very common mistake, and it’s completely understandable. The temptation is to leave anything really personal out of it and be formulaic. A motivation letter is meant to be personal. It is usually noticeable if your letter is taken out of a template you Googled.

So, write content that showcases who you are in your own voice. It may seem like a risky move but it will make you stand out.

Do: Make notes on sample motivation letters

On the other hand, there is a role for a bit of sampling! Sample motivation letters are available online to help you. So use them to help you structure yours. Make a list of words that you have not considered using.

But also, take time to look at examples of bad motivation letters. This will help you have a sense of both good and bad approaches to writing that will help you when you write your motivation letter.

Don’t: Regurgitate your CV

Your CV already has an extensive list of your education and achievements. So your motivation letter is best used to highlight certain aspects of your CV in detail or flag a story or experience that is hard to convey on a resume. Don’t make your motivation letter a paragraph form of your CV.


Do: Tell a story

Use your motivation letter as an opportunity to highlight certain aspects about your CV. Tell the story behind your finest achievements. Or talk about your inspiration behind choosing that particular degree. That being said, don’t be afraid to share your weaknesses or struggles that you faced while striving for your achievements. This demonstrates self-awareness and also the fact that obstacles don’t stop you from getting what you want 😉

Don’t: Just talk about yourself

A majority of recruiters want to know why you want to work in their company. Showing that you’ve done your research on the company or university will confirm your seriousness and interest to work or study there.

Doing research on the company/university can also help you adjust your letter to be better-suited for the intended recipient. Do not just copy and paste the same letter to every company you apply to. It’s very obvious.

Do: Talk about a two-way relationship

It is very important to emphasise ways in which you can contribute to the company, but also write on ways that the company can enhance your personal growth.

Apart from showing that you’ve done your homework on the company, it shows that you’re going to go beyond being the ‘average’ employee.

Do: Ask someone to read your letter

Having a fresh pair of eyes to evaluate your writing can be a very valuable asset for you to have. Other people will be able to tell you the impression your letter makes and whether or not it sounds like “you”.

Asking someone else to read your letter can push you to sound more confident or can help you tone a few things down. It will definitely help you reflect on things that you won’t necessarily be able to do yourself. And, the more feedback, the merrier!

Don’t: Use complex words

Most recruiters will have to read a number of motivation letters. Using complex words may do more harm than good. Remember that you don’t have to use big words to sound interesting. Check out George Orwell’s rules of writing, if you haven’t already.

Do: Be Concise

Being concise and direct with your words can help with many things. You may be able to convey more. It will also help recruiters understand and concentrate on your letter a lot more. Avoiding using poetic phrases may go a long way.

Don’t: Send your letter with your 5th-grade e-mail

Last but not least, if your letter has to be sent via e-mail, make sure that it is a professional e-mail address. An email address with the name of your first pet rabbit just won’t be taken seriously by recruiters. So, make sure that you have an email with at least your first name and not too many numbers behind it.

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