How to write application documents: Convincing prospect employers within seconds

© GettyImages/Wasan Tit

Since the end of last year members of the Alumniportal Deutschland have been participating in a virtual coaching helping them to streamline their application documents. This document contains some suggestions for the preparation of application documents in answer to some questions that came up frequently during the coaching sessions.

Be self-confident and put it short and clearly

HR responsibles usually do not like it to have to work themselves through a huge amount of information. They decide within 20 to 30 seconds if you are one of the interesting candidates! Only after you made it on the long-list they will analyse your application in more detail.

It is therefore essential to submit short and clear documents that reveal the key points at a glance.

When preparing your documents put yourself into the perspective of your prospect employer. What does he or she need? Usually you will find sufficient information in the job posting and on the website. Make a bullet list of the qualifications, experiences and personality traits demanded. Write down for each bullet the assets you have. In this way you will get the key arguments that you can build on in the CV and the letter of motivation. And don’t worry – it is very rare that candidates match the job profile 100%. If you fulfil all mandatory criteria and 70-80% of the remaining requirements you have a real chance to make it.

What belongs into the CV

  • Your CV should always be complete. Stages that are not relevant for the job should be mentioned shortly, relevant stages be more elaborated. The respective job posting will tell you what is relevant and what is not.
  • Remember that study courses, grading systems, employer and abbreviations sometimes need a short explanation, especially if you apply for an international posting.
  • Do not forget to mention outstanding performances and special achievements like scholarships, excellent grades and degrees as well as particular results that you have achieved during your studies, traineeships or in your professional life.
  • It is more important to state the relevant information than to keep the document short. Many of our coachees are worried that their documents are too long. We think that you can put a lot of information in 1 to 2 pages. Normally, this is sufficient for young professionals. If you have more to say and it is pertinent you should say it even if your CV gets longer by doing so.
  • Trainings and basic courses that were passed a long time ago and are far below the level you have reached in the meantime usually do not belong into the CV. The same applies for bibliographies of several pages unless the prospect employer explicitly demands it.

How many soft skills are needed?

Many candidates have doubts about how, where and if at all soft skills should be mentioned in the CV. There exist no clear rules. But we recommend especially young professionals to describe their personal skills as tangible as possible.

A precise explanation of tasks and responsibilities already allows conclusions to your personality. Describe your role and activities in a precise way and use expressive verbs like initiate, lead, manage.

A description of personal and social skills is often included but not mandatory. They are listed in an own section or in a skills profile at the head of the CV. You should select the skills to mention in relation to the job you apply for: which skills and competencies are needed for this job?

If you decide not to list any soft skills in the CV you should mention them in the cover letter.

Letter of motivation

Writing a convincing letter of motivation is hard work. Even if some employers do not demand a cover letter usually you will not get around it.

  • Do not repeat your CV in the letter by listing every stage chronologically. This is boring for the HR responsible and has no added value compared to the CV.
  • Illustrate the benefits you bring for the employer. Take the following perspective: The employer has a problem. He or she needs an employee. And you are the best solution to this problem because of your skills and experiences. Therefore, highlight the most important arguments that support you.
  • Point out your passion for the job and your identification with the company.
  • You can describe how the job fits into your career planning, what professional objectives you strive for or which skills you hope to develop.
  • Write in an active and confident way, use short sentences and avoid filler words.
  • Keep the letter short. In most cases one page is enough. That also applies for online applications.

The overall impression is what counts

A confident command of computer programmes is nowadays a basic knowledge every graduate should dispose of. Accordingly, the layout of application documents is changing. On the whole, they are more appealing, make use of colours and symbols and are designed in a more professional way. You can find many templates on the internet or maybe even in your word processing programme.

For example, take a look at „One Page Designvorlagen“ whose templates can also easily be expanded to two pages. Pay attention which image your employer is using. If it is modern, creative, young or innovative it might be a good idea to use an appealing design.

In some countries, including Germany, it is still common to use application photos even though it is not mandatory. If you decide to use a photo make sure that it has a professional look. Snapshots and selfies are taboo.

Sending the right Signals

When you now start writing your application documents be confident in doing so. Elaborate your distinguishing features. It is not true that breaks, changes, longer study times and gaps in the CV pose an obstacle to your career. We have encountered highly qualified members of the DAAD Alumni community with international experiences and exciting lives and we are convinced that they have very interesting profiles for many employers. We wish you all the best and good luck!

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