Do’s and Don’ts for the Storytelling Cover Letter
- Do make it as concise as possible. Employers are not spending as much time as they used to reading cover letters. Ideally, your letter should be about four paragraphs, and one of those should tell a story.
- Do make it reader-friendly. Even the narrative cover letter has succumbed to employers’ insatiable hunger for bullet points, which are a nice way to break up blocks of type and make your letter easy to read. Focus-group participants responded well to this sample letter [link], which includes both a story and a bulleted section. It’s also possible to tell a story in bullet form, as in this example:
- In my four years as sales manager of a leading medical-supply distributor in Redwood City, I directed the sales and marketing of the company’s line of breathing apparatus. During that time:
- I led the sales team in tripling annual billings, from $3 million to nearly $11 million;
- I contributed to a five-fold increase in company profits, for $150K in 2001 to $785K for the fiscal year ending in 2007.
- I guided a 250 percent increased in the number of accounts in our group’s sales territory.
- The success I’ve had here and elsewhere in 15 years of selling is not a coincidence or attributable to luck or magic. My sales prowess results from a natural ability to analyze a marketing/selling situation and deliver an innovative program that leaves the competition behind.
Use tables as another way to tell a story in a user-friendly format. Remember Mathias Carroll’s Project Supplement Resume Addendum from Chapter 4? An alternative to using the full addendum is to extract three or four storied key projects and use them in the middle of your cover letter, as in this sample.
- 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 the letter together by briefly referring back to the story in your final paragraph. See example letters starting here.
- 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, and employers are always attracted to numbers that indicate results.
- Do use compelling stories. Stories for the sake for storytelling won’t get you far. Be sure the stories you include in your cover letter will grab the reader.