As a recent graduate, it took me two weeks to find my first job ever, in the middle of a pandemic. At the time, I thought my success was due to the fact that I had escaped competition to work where my profile was rare (I’m from Belgium and went to work in Poland). I was partly right. Being in Poland did help me, but the real reason I found a job so quickly was not that I was a rare catch.
It was because I was valuable to the company that hired me.
Students struggle to get jobs because they’re not communicating that they are valuable to the companies they are applying to. And that is because university never taught them to.
School Didn’t Teach You What Value Is
School does not teach you value. It teaches you to explain to professors that you have well understood what they teach. Exams do not ask you to solve a problem someone from the real world has. They ask you to prove that you have studied enough to get the knowledge.
The real world is different. No one cares about what is in your head. The work you need to produce does not depend on you and your understanding. It depends on the person who needs your output, and their requirements for the job.
As such, employees are not hired because they were good at school. It’s a myth. Employees are hired if they are valuable to the company. And this value depends on their capacity to fix the company’s problems.
Employees get hired when they can fix the problems the company has.
Problem-Solving Is the Only Skill That Matters
Why don’t students get paid to study?
After all, they wake up every day, work hard, must attend classes, and produce some work.
There is no difference between an employee and a student, right? Right?
There is a difference. What students produce (homework and exams) has no value.
Who cares about their math test? Who cares about that presentation from geography? Students are trained to prove they know what they are taught. They are not trained to fix problems that matter. They don’t produce any valuable output. Employees, on the other hand, spend their days solving problems from their employers and receive a salary as compensation.
How To Find Your First Job
The irony of the story is that students go to school for twenty years and don’t learn the one critical thing they must to become valuable to society: creating value.
Students write assignments and exams with the intent to show their professors what they know.
The real world doesn’t care about what students know.
The real world has a problem, and it wants it fixed. He who will be hired will be he who can fix the problem the cheapest, quickest, and overall best way possible.
As such, graduates should always write their resume and motivation letter from the perspective of the person that will hire them.
Unfortunately, they seldom do so.
Most graduates write explaining what they have done: “I have studied engineering…I have won this public speaking competition…I have learned Spanish…”.
Guess what. Nobody cares. Whoever is reading the motivation letter must has one question in their head they need answered: “what can this person do for me?”
As such, here’s what graduates should write instead: “Studying engineering taught me problem-solving skills in the field of aeronautics, with a focus on the issues your company is seeking to solve…I have learned public speaking in the context of a competition that I won, which enables me to motivate and lead a group of people…Learning Spanish gives me the chance to communicate with clients and colleagues to avoid misunderstandings that the English language may have…”.
It’s not about what you know, but about the problems you can solve with what you know.
How to Write a Motivation Letter in Practice
As such, the truth about writing a motivation letter is that there is no need to do so. It has been done already. It’s called a job posting.
The job posting explains what the job entails, who the company is looking for, and what are the responsibilities.
All you need to do is to take this information and rewrite it in the form of a motivation letter. The closer the motivation letter is to the job posting, the more chances you have to obtain an interview.
A motivation letter should not outline how motivated you are. Rather, it should outline how well you will fix the specific problems of the company.
Let’s take a practical example.
A Practical Example
I randomly searched for a computer science job posting.
Here’s what is written (no need to read it, just skim through it).
- Interact and integrate as SAP SD representative within our Business teams in terms of improvements and implementations of Sales processes (Sales, Order fulfillment, Taxes, Pricing, Invoicing, GTS…)
- Qualify Business demands together with internal stakeholders (business and IT) and support them according solution design and scoping
- Consult Business in the initial phase of projects and provide rough scope and feasibility of the solution
- Use agile or even classical methodology in implementation of projects and enhancements depends on the project
- Steer the fulfillment of SAP SD demands either as enhancement or as project (incl. steering of external consultants for implementation and execution)
- Implementing enhancements independently and/or in collaboration with 3rd party supplier (Customize and set up ERP system according the functional specification)
- Actively engage in innovation and harmonization activities
- Successfully completed studies in (economic) computer science or education with a similar background
- Proven experience in SAP Sales and Distribution with business focus
- At least 2-3 years in a similar role
- Good communication and presentation skills
- Fluent in English
- Knowledge of ITIL is a plus
- Proactive and independent personality with attention to detail
- Can-do attitude, good sense of humor and a strong team player
- Analytical, enjoy technology and eager to implement SAP best practices in a B2B environment
- Ability to work in cross-functional environments with very diverse, international teams
I have no CS skills, but from the job posting, it’s clear that the company is looking for someone with a degree that can use SAP SD in a business context and that knows about one or two things related to project management and business life cycle.
That, in a nutshell, is the ideal employee the company is looking for. All you need to do now, is take each of these points, link them to a personal experience, and write about them in the motivation letter.
Your letter, therefore, should outline how you are a person with a college degree and 2-3 years of experience playing with SAP SD in an international company which enabled you to learn skills and knowledge about project management that you successfully implemented to make SAP SD work within the business process.
Also, you followed a course about ITIL.
That’s it. This is all the employer cares about.
He doesn’t care that you won the local swimming competition. He doesn’t care that your history project was published in the regional newspaper. He doesn’t care that your passion is painting.
What he cares about is that you can use SAP SD and integrates it across various parts of the company. Period.
The Bottom Line
Getting hired is not about telling your employer who you are. It’s about telling them that you can do the job – and your credentials are there to prove it.
At school, students are used to talk about what they think, what they want and what they understand. In the corporate world, you should rather talk about what others think, what others want, and what others understand.
As such, next time you are applying for a job, don’t read your motivation letter from your perspective. Read it thinking about whether you would hire that person, taking into account you want someone that can solve specific problems.
Once you shift your view from striving for what you want on one hand, to delivering what other people want on the other, you become unstoppable. The more value you produce for others, the more you will be needed by others. The more you are needed, the more money you will make.