5 Storytelling Tips You Need for Writing Killer Cover Letters

By the SMU Social Media Team

You’re in your mid-20s, fresh out of university, eager to enter the workforce, and getting ready to send out your resume and cover letter to dozens of companies. But how can you stand out from among the hundreds of other new graduates seeking the same job opportunities?

First impressions count, and one way to portray yourself as a unique individual worthy of an interview slot is an effective cover letter. It’s common knowledge that you should always tailor and attach a cover letter with your resume for each different job application to present yourself as a relevant potential employee who might be a good fit. Yet, how do you write a cover letter to tell your story, and catch the interest of the hiring manager?

You might have heard of the importance of good storytelling; after all, most things in life involve storytelling of some form, be it a movie, sales pitch, or even a song. A good story is one that unites both storyteller and reader, creating meaning and understanding at the same time. While a cover letter should definitely include facts, it’ll certainly pop when nuggets of information are interwoven with the story of you.

Dr Tanvi Gautam gave a talk recently as part of the Future Ready Forum designed by the SMU Executive Development, titled The Competitive Advantage of Storytelling. As a certified Business Storytelling Coach, Dr Gautam highlighted the importance of storytelling in the business world, in order to engage employees and invoke business action, and the takeaway from her session can be applied to almost any situation in which compliance or connection is desired.

So, what makes an effective story, and how can you apply it when crafting a cover letter?

A good story….

…introduces a character – In your cover letter, you are the protagonist, and your aim is to get the reader to perceive you as a strong character (or candidate) that they can understand. In this manner, you should introduce facts about yourself and your life, weaved together in a convincing manner.

…creates meaning – In creating meaning, you’re giving the reader a reason for why you deserve the job you are applying for. Your story should create links to what the organisation is looking for and convince the hiring manager that your experiences and qualifications make you a suitable candidate for the role.

…invokes emotions – Stories that include facts put across plainly will lose the attention of the reader in no time. When writing your cover letter, you should identify a way to tug at the heartstrings in a positive way that conveys your ability to do the job – whether through sparking joy (e.g., including a funny narrative or witty line that can humour and impress your reader), empathy (e.g., sharing an unfortunate or difficult experience that has led you to decide to pursue the job you are applying for), or even anger (e.g., conveying your passion and commitment to a meaningful cause such as volunteering to help seniors who have been abandoned by family).

…has a twist/conflict – While it might seem counterintuitive to include a twist in your cover letter, it can actually work to your advantage when told convincingly. An example where this might be a strong point could be if you were applying for a job or industry that is seemingly unrelated to your past experience or undergraduate major – the twist could be in the form of a wake-up call, perhaps through a life-changing experience or even a single module during the course of your education that affected your decision. The idea is to disrupt the pattern of the narrative and tell a story that is different from one that the reader expects, as this will keep his/her interest and might even help him/her remember your story more clearly when shortlisting candidates.

…is easy to understand – At the end of the day, your story should be engaging and interesting, but also conveyed in a manner that is easy for your reader to understand. The hiring manager will have dozens of applications to go through and that means an equal amount of cover letters to read as well. The key is telling your story in a cover letter that is succinct, yet can captivate your reader.

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