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Storytelling tips for cover letters

Your resume can be jam-packed with impressive stats, industry lingo and design elements that rival those showcased in job search books, and still end up in an employer’s stack of rejections.

You’ve got a personality, passions, goals and career experiences that make you unlike any other candidate for the job. It’s up to you to share this information in your cover letter in a way that dazzles employers and strengthens your resume.

Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., author of Tell Me About Yourself: Storytelling to Get Jobs and Propel Your Career, says cover letters provide opportunities that resumes don’t to inject your personality.

“You can engage the employer, make an emotional connection, show results, and become instantly memorable by writing at least one paragraph in the form of a powerful story,” Hansen says.

She suggests that job seekers use their cover letter to tell stories about their interest or passion for a career field or to detail successful projects, accomplishments, solutions, results and more.

In her book Hansen outlines the following dos and don’ts for cover letters that tell such stories:

Do make the letter as concise as possible. Ideally, it should be about four paragraphs, and one of those should tell a story.

Don’t neglect the “storyline” in the rest of the letter. Even if only one paragraph in your letter is in story form, try to integrate the story’s theme throughout your letter and tie it together by briefly referring back to the story in your final paragraph.

Do make your stories specific and quantify results whenever possible. It’s always easier for the reader to picture you succeeding on the job when you describe a specific situation. In addition, employers are attracted to numbers that indicate results.

Don’t write your autobiography. Telling a story doesn’t mean describing your entire career; that’s what your resume is for.

Do tell relevant stories. Tell only the stories that are relevant to the employer’s requirements, the problems you can solve, and the results you can achieve. If the relevance isn’t immediately obvious from your story, help the reader make the connection by pointing out the skills and qualifications the story illustrates.

Don’t overlook story cues in want ads. Study the want ad that describes the position that interests you and ensure that your cover letter responds to the ad’s intent. Incorporate the ad’s words and the tasks or responsibilities that are mentioned.

Do use some of the employer’s messages and language. Go to the employer’s website or pick up print publications about the organization. Pick out buzzwords and phrases. Play these back to the employer in your story. Employers who read language-mirroring stories conclude that the job seeker “gets it.”

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