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How to apply for an opportunity—successfully!

When applying for an internship, job or call for participation, there are key points not to miss in order to pass the first round of selection and potentially get an interview.

YPARD has been proposing a number of opportunities in the past few years and we have taken the chance to list a number of tips that will help optimize your applications. Some of the suggestions below might seem obvious, but from my experience, I’d say it is not so for everyone!

I encourage you to take a closer look at your CV and Motivation Letters before sending them, and review the whole process you follow when applying for an opportunity.

These are my views, personally tested and approved. However, there are no magic tricks for success (- from what I know). You need to put some thought into it yourself and find your own tune.

Golden rules:

  • KNOW what you are applying for and where (You need to really UNDERSTAND it!)
  • Know and BE AWARE OF YOURSELF!
  • Feel and SHOW ENTHUSIASM! (Yes, for getting an opportunity, you might need to really want it first!)
  • FOCUS (!!!) on what is required; BE CONCISE and STRAIGHT FORWARD!
  • GIVE CONCRETE EXAMPLES FROM YOUR PAST EXPERIENCE (not necessarily professional ones!)
  • LAY the foundations for A CLOSE RELATIONSHIP: express how you will gain from it; how they will gain from you

Step 1 - Sit down, dig into the context - You are applying for a specific opportunity

As in human relationships, for whatever reason, you’ve got a crush on this announcement. The objective is to get to know more about it and confirm your interest! Furthermore, you will want them to want you! Bring your best assets to the forefront. Declare your flame and get a “rendez-vous”!

Brainstorm and know your subject:

  • Know the organisation
  • Know the position and the main criteria for selection
  • Know why you would be the best for this position and how you will be a great addition to the team

How?

  1. READ (!!!)  the announcement carefully;  understand the objectives and what is required
  2. TAKE NOTES – extract KEY ELEMENTS AND CRITERIA from the offer – you will have to build your arguments on it!
  3. Go through the ORGANISATION’S WEBSITE (or any document about it) thoroughly, and get a clear understanding of its work; connect the position to the broader picture
  4. Brainstorm about yourself. List YOUR KNOWLEDGE, SKILLS AND INTERESTS THAT RESPOND TO the expectations for this position (i.e. the notes you extracted earlier) and the philosophy of the organisation; illustrate with CONCRETE EXAMPLES what you have done in the past andhow you applied these assets.

Step 2 – Build your case

You are building up the case for how YOU are the best solution for them, based on WHO they are and WHAT they are expecting.

You should now have a number of notes about the organisation and the requirements for the position, aligned with your own assets and interests, and concrete examples to illustrate these. It’s time to organise them and use them as the backbone of your CV and Motivation letter!

Mind you, there might be dozens of people applying for the same position. You need to stand out from the crowd. This doesn’t mean speaking loud; it means bringing a solution to an expectation, effectively. In other words, we don’t expect you to show-off, but simply present your arguments honestly, clearly and concisely.

I encourage you to put yourself in the shoes of the person who will read your application:

  • While writing your CV and ML, never forget him/her;  talk to him/her (while still respecting a certain level of formality in your writing style)
  • Be interesting: are you getting bored while reading about yourself – Would you select yourself?

CV

The main mistake is trying to be exhaustive. A CV belongs to your argumentation: you state how your background, interests and experience respond to the needs of the organisation for the announced position.

In short:

  • Focus on the criteria of the offer
  • Be concise
  • Be clear
  • Be concrete

For example, I have been struck by the fact that very few candidates for the YPARD Social Networking position had mentioned their social network profiles. You might not want to share your private profiles – totally understandable! But have you thought of creating professional ones? One might consider that if you apply for such position, you might want to expand your online presence as a professional.

Motivation Letter

  • Structure

You may consider writing two paragraphs:

  1. Explain briefly your understanding of the organisation and the position, and express your interest in joining the action! Showing that you know what you are talking about will give evidence of your enthusiasm, your genuine reflection and will create a rapport.
  2. Prove that YOU are a great asset for them, precisely for this mission. You might choose to focus on 3 key criteria from the announcement and develop an argument from each.  State your argument, then illustrate with a concrete example.

Emphasize how you can do great work together!
There is no magic formula; it will always depend on the position. Once again, do not forget the golden rules.

  • Focus!

I have faced Motivation Letters that barely addressed the key activity of the internship position. Small tip: set a list of key words related to the specific subject and make sure you use a certain number in your letter (put them in bold, for yourself, for example). If you don’t find any, there might be a problem...

  • Beware of your writing style

Your writing style will tell a lot about your personality and how it fits the position:

  1. We might not expect the same writing style from a researcher as from a Social Networking officer.
  2. Always be positive. Avoid any term reflecting a negative approach (“I don’t”; “I am not sure”; “If not”, etc.)

Killing factors:

What NOT TO DO!

  • Send the same CV and the same Motivation letters for all the opportunities you are applying for. Every organisation and position is unique. Although you might find some similarities, you will always need to personalize it and tailor it to the specific context and requirements.
  • Try to include all your knowledge, skills and experience in your CV and ML. You might be a brilliant person with experience in high standard organisation, but if you don’t have the most basic skills we are requiring – or if you don’t express it concisely – , you will not get the position.

Once again, there is no magic trick and you might hear drastically different advice from different people. I had a solid module on how to apply to job opportunities effectively at the University in France (UCO, Angers), which thankfully echoed what I learned at the University of Manchester. However, when I showed my CV and Motivation Letter to a professional meant to support job seekers in my region in France, she literally mocked me. Truth is that I knew better than her what I was applying for...and I got the job! ;-)

This is just a small highlight of the elements I think fundamental. To those who are just starting out, I recommend to download the tips by the University of Manchester with good guidelines on how to write a CV and Motivation Letter from scratch. Don’t hesitate to ask others to read your applications: family, friends, and professionals.

Know what you want, express it and show why and how you have the capacities to get it!
Good luck!

If you have any comments, questions, need for clarification, if you don’t agree on some point or want to add on, please log in and comment below!

Marina Cherbonnier, YPARD web and communications