Adding motivation to your cover letters

Should you always give a reason for applying to a particular company on your cover letter?

(if you are targeting a specific company that is)
e.g. I would like to work for ABC Ltd because…

This is a good question, because some people do, whereas most people don’t. Notably, some companies specifically ask you to do this in their job advertisements, whereas vast majority of companies do not mention this at all when they are recruiting, and leave the whole of the content for the cover letter entirely up to the applicant to decide upon.

Why do some companies ask for this?

Really, that depends on the company in question, but one reason is that it sometimes forces a candidate to open up and express themselves a bit more individually, rather than just send in a standard letter/application, and this enables company HR executives to view the candidate from an extra perspective (and possibly even in a new light). Essentially, it’s a way of getting a bit more information about the candidate and his/her motivations that the company wouldn’t necessarily have otherwise. It’s not a bad thing, as it can help the decision-making process.
At the same time, it should be recognised that adding your motivations to cover letters isn’t guaranteed to do you any favours. On the contrary, sometimes it can even backfire. For example, many people who do elaborate on their motivations tend to write very standard and often clichéd responses that do little to boost their course. If you do this then it can actually do you more harm than good.

If you are going to write about your motivations, then one tip is to make them interesting, personalised and relevant to the prospective reader. For example, if you have had professional dealings with the company in question, or have built up relations with key stakeholders, then these kind of things are sometimes worth elaborating on.

The case for not mentioning motivation

As mentioned, many companies don’t ask you why you are applying to work with them, and most people don’t elaborate on their particular motivation for applying for a certain company. As seen, there are potential disadvantages of not doing a particularly good job of selling your ‘motivation,’ and in addition to this there are other reasons for excluding it. First and foremost, it does take up space on your cover letter (something which is already a short document), and doing this therefore can eat into your restricted selling space. You should remember that the primary aim of your cover letter is to sell yourself to the employer and whet the reader’s appetite to read your CV. This is best achieved by letting the reader know that you are qualified, ready and able to do the job on offer. For many people, and some companies, anything else is a bit of a distraction. Another point worth mentioning is that some companies do not encourage applicants to include motivations because most people who do this take up a significant amount of space on their cover letter to tell the employer something they already know – for example leading blue-chip multinational companies do not need to be told time and time again that that is e.g. they are a multinational blue-chip company and are leaders in their field. A lot of companies actually already have a good idea why people want to work for them, and when they advertise jobs they are primarily looking for those people who best meet the job criteria rather than those candidates who give interesting reasons for applying.

Notably, some companies receive a great many applicants, and HR executives are very busy professionals. It may not sound like much on the surface, but reading one extra paragraph per application does add up in terms of time and effort when you have 200 CVs and cover letters to go through on your desk.

Other advantages for including motivations

That said, sometimes it can be worth including your motivation on a cover letter, even if the company does not request it. But here is the thing – as long as you do it well.

For example, we regularly receive applications from professional writers wanting to work with us. Many of these applicants do not include their motivations for applying, but most of those who do tend to do so in a very standard and unimaginative way, which doesn’t impress – and especially since we work in a creative field.

On the other hand, now and again we will receive an application from someone who, judging by what they have said and how they have written;

(A) Have clearly spent time going through our website, clicking on the links and finding out about us, our methods, and why we are different.

(B) Have taken the time to write a thoughtful and personalised letter that not only does fundamental things such as indicate that they meet the job pre-requisites, but also goes further, and gives an indication why he/she would be a good fit for our team by addressing things that isn’t mentioned on our recruitment page, but which are mentioned elsewhere on our website.

(C) Have shown the ability to write in a slick, professional and engaging manner.
With us, just as with many other companies, if an applicant comes to us with standard, almost cut-and-paste motivations, then this is hardly likely to inspire us (just the opposite in fact). On the other hand, on rare occasions when the applicant ticks the A, B & C boxes above then at the very least, we do sit up and immediately take more notice than we would otherwise do.

In summary

Ultimately, there are no hard and fast rules on this matter and it’s up to you how you write your cover letter, but just be aware of the potential pitfalls of even doing one section poorly.

As a general rule, if an employer asks you to include your motivations then you should do this.

On the other hand, if they don’t mention it then it is still something you can consider adding. But you should weigh up the pros and cons and doing so. If you are still undecided about including motivations then just one final tip …do it well, or not at all!