How to tell a story with your cover letter - Preparing you for the future of work.

How to tell a story with your cover letter

Picture this: A professional woman looking at her computer screen and working on her cover letter.

She types: “The best stories invite us along on a journey with a hero to explore new places, new ideas and new adventures. They get us to momentarily forget our everyday life, and inspire us to aspire to greater heights as we accompany the main character to uncharted territory.” Does this sound like your typical cover letter? No, of course not. But it could. 

As digital transformation changes the way we live and work, many job seekers are opting for creative CV’s, and ditching the old Word document. Cover letters are still an extremely important element in any job search – no matter what format they are created in.

In your next cover letter, ditch the staid format of simply introducing yourself, and rather trying storytelling techniques to inspire the reader to learn more about your best traits.

Your cover letter allows you to create content that is targeted directly at the potential employer and tailored for the specific role. It should not be a condensed version of your CV, but rather an account that looks at your specific interest in the company, the role, and how your experience, values and vision align with them.

Below are tips for storytelling with your cover letter:

Start in the middle - and then go back 

If you pay attention, you’ll notice that most stories don’t start at the very beginning. Instead, they start with action, and then flash back to the beginning only later after you’re hooked. You can pull your reader in by starting with talking about a dramatic or memorable moment you’ve had at work or in your career; then once they want to know more, you can show the path that lead to this moment - the prequel.

Include the moment of truth 

In a story, the hero always has to make a choice between playing it safe or accepting the challenge and their destiny. This moment of truth is when things get interesting. What was that moment for you? When did you know a career or a position was perfect for you? What challenge did you have to overcome? This kind of information gives the reader insight into your work ethic and commitment to your career. 

Join the cause together 

The hero of the story always needs partnerships to survive - and they need to select wisely. So why do you want to join forces with this potential employer? What can you offer each other? What common enemy will you take on? Show how you’re in this together, and how you can be stronger when you are allied. 

Don’t fall flat with your conclusion

The best endings always reference the beginning. Don’t end with a flat “... and that’s why I want this job.” Instead, circle back to the beginning of your story, and show how you will make this journey continue.

These tips don’t mean that you should refer to yourself as a hero in your cover letter, or that you should refer to your competition as an enemy. Those are good ways to get your application thrown in the trash. However, you can think of your cover letter as part of the “hero’s journey” story, which are classic techniques that has drawn audiences in for centuries. Use them to write your next chapter.

Lyndy van den Barselaar is the Managing Director at ManpowerGroup South Africa.

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