“I never read the cover letter,” says recruiter and career coach Freek van Kraaikamp. “A CV tells me so much more.” EUR alumnus Koen Knoop, recruitment consultant at Undutchables, also checks the CV first. “It should preferably include a short description of the candidate. So many people respond to our job advertisements that I don’t have time to read all those letters.”
That’s why it’s always important to call the company concerned. “The telephone number at the bottom of the job advertisement is there for a reason,” explains Knoop. “Call and ask what they need from you. Sometimes, a cover letter isn’t necessary. This is also your chance to learn more about the company.” Then you can refer to this conversation in your letter. “That shows that you are proactive. And it’s also your opportunity to find out whether the company suits you. It’s not just one-way traffic. The employer has to want you, but you also have to want to work there.”
Keep your cover letter short and concise. “I always keep to the sequence you-I-we,” says Van Kraaikamp. “First explain why you want to work for me, then say who ‘I’ am and what you want and are able to do. Finish with what we can do for each other.” Van Kraaikamp advises candidates to be very specific here. “Choose a current project on the company’s website which appeals to you.
Explain why and what you could contribute to it.” A standard start to the letter is fine. “95 percent of people can’t write,” says Van Kraaikamp. “Don’t try too hard to be funny or original. Rather a dull introduction than a toe-curling start to the letter.”Jansen has another tip for international students: write your cover letter in the language of the job advertisement. “We regularly advertise for a job in English, only to receive a reply in Spanish or German. Or the candidate has translated his or her CV into Dutch, but doesn’t speak Dutch. If speaking Dutch isn’t a requirement, that’s not necessary.” The reverse happens too. “Employers make the same mistake. They may be looking for a native German speaker, but write the advertisement in Dutch.” His advice: read the job advertisement really well. “A job advertisement in Dutch doesn’t always mean that you need to speak that language. So don’t be put off.”
Six tips for an ideal CV
1. Maximum two pages
2. Start with a summary about yourself, your skills and what you want
3. Sequence: first education, then relevant work experience, committee positions, etc.
4. For each job, mention the title, department and specialisation
5. Refer to the job being advertised: if the company uses jargon like ‘solution-oriented’ and ‘communicative skills’, incorporate them in your text and show that you have these skills
6. Be short and concise
According to Knoop, you must also gear your CV to the company you are applying to. That goes further than the content, because the layout is also important. “I once received a CV from a designer. He’d used a standard template and done absolutely nothing with the layout,” says Jansen. “A CV like that goes straight in the bin. If he can’t present his own communications well, I can’t rely on him showing that creativity in his work for the client.”
“You have to distinguish yourself from everybody else”, adds Van Kraaikamp. “For starters’ positions, I don’t expect you to have years of relevant work experience. So consider what the employer is looking for and highlight that. I see CVs with a page long list of jobs in restaurants and bars and one line about their study, even though that master specialisation is what the job requires.”
After that, it’s about the extras, says Van Kraaikamp. “Most candidates have the basic qualification, namely a diploma. But that won’t get you the job.” What will? “After the study itself, I look for part time jobs and committee memberships. People who have actually done jobs have a head start with me. For example, if you’ve worked in hospitality while you were a student, that shows me that you are flexible and that you have perseverance.”
Jansen advises to clearly highlight in your CV why you made certain choices. “Don’t make us guess. Recently I was interviewing a woman. She’d immigrated to the Netherlands last year and was looking for a job. But there was a gap of a year in her CV. We obviously understand that you can’t find a job immediately, but what we find interesting is what you did in the meantime. Did you spend a year as a couch potato, did you travel or did you some form of work? Apparently the woman had learned Dutch in a year and worked on various food trucks. That aroused my interest. She’d shown initiative, demonstrated that she could work with different people and that she was perseverant.”
And finally, that one question: photos on your CV or not? “That’s a difficult one,” sighs Van Kraaikamp. “You don’t know what link the reader will make with your photo: perhaps you look like his or her crush, parent or enemy.” Undutchables removes photos before they send the CVs to the employer, says Jansen. “Unless you are a model, it’s entirely irrelevant. The same applies to photos as to the text: only include them if they add value to the application.”
Seven tips for an ideal LinkedIn profile
1. Make sure you have a good profile photo: use a plain background and dress to reflect the job you are applying for (Are your future colleagues in suits? If so, make sure that you wear a suit too)
2. Adapt the title under your name and be specific (for example, choose a sentence which describes what you do or what you are looking for, such as ‘Logistics department manager at company X’)
3. In the summary, include: who I am, what I can do, what I want and what my added value is for the company
4. For each job, describe what your responsibilities were and what developments you experienced
5. Make your profile as interesting as possible by creating links to company websites and posting photos and video clips
6. Request references from companies you’ve worked for or where you’ve done an internship.
7. Be short and concise
If all this leads to the desired result, the recruiters have some tips for the job interview. Ask questions, is the advice of Van Kraaikamp. “Businesses don’t take on people from the goodness of their heart. They want to know how fast you can turn 1 euro into 2 euros. By asking questions, you show that you have studied the company. For example, ask what a working day’s like, how quickly you’ll be able to work independently or talk about current projects. The subsequent conversation is an opportunity for you to present yourself.”
Also be prepared to answer questions about any discrepancies in your CV, like gaps. “Because I’ll obviously ask about them,” says Knoop. “And if you go red in the face and start stuttering, that’s a sign that you haven’t prepared for the interview. Check your CV, consider what questions you could expect and formulate a short answer to each question.”
Social media have recently become part of the application process. And no, you can’t sit back and wait till work comes to you once you’ve got your diploma and created a LinkedIn profile, Koop emphasises. Show initiative, work on your network and make sure that you are known to the right people, he tells his candidates. “Undutchables organises networking receptions, for example. Job seekers who I speak to at these receptions are fresh in my memory. I’ll automatically think about them first when a job comes along.”
Finally, a word of comfort: don’t worry about that photo of you holding a beer. “I don’t often Google anyone,” says Kraaikamp. “If I did, there would have to be something very strange in your CV.” Knoop: “No one’s perfect, and we’re not looking for perfection. You sometimes check profiles, but there would have to be something odd for me to reject someone on that basis. For a sales position, I’d be more likely to reject a profile with dull photos of someone sitting behind his desk than someone with photos of friends and a beer. Because that shows that someone is sociable, an important aspect in sales.” So don’t have sleepless nights about your social media, concludes Jansen. “It’s not about how good you look in a photo, but how you perform on the work floor. If an employer does question that one party photo, you might want to question whether you really want to work there.”
This article appeared earlier in Erasmus Magazine year 20, issue 3.