Struggling with your cover letter? Tell your story and stand out

By Teresa Ruiz Decker

I first started studying journalism as an undergrad because I loved to write. Later, I realized what I loved most about writing was the storytelling. Our stories hold the power to create a connection, illuminate different perspectives, and move people to change. Stories are also one of the best ways to stand out from the sea of applicants and give people a taste of the real you. As LatinX’s and People of Color, I think it’s especially important to use our stories to be authentic in who we are and shine a light on how our unique experiences can add to any organization. Your cover letter is the perfect place to highlight your professional skills, show some flavor and let hiring managers know why you’re perfect for the job. If you’ve been starting each letter with something like, “I’m writing to express interest in the _____ role,” it’s probably time to switch it up and test out new language to see what resonates with employers.

Here’s how to ditch the dry cover letters and up your job search game through storytelling in your cover letter.

Pick a good story for your cover letter

We all have hundreds, even thousands, of stories about our life experiences but there are only a handful of stories useful for a cover letter. Pick stories for your cover letter that are:

  1. About an experience that showcases why you’re great for the job

  2. Interesting, insightful or funny

  3. Short and easy to understand (Sorry, complicated stories are out — no matter good they may be)

These stories could be from your experiences tackling a project at work, volunteering, growing up, going to school, or some experience that shows an immediate connection to the job or company. The point is to show your human side while showcasing what makes you a kick-ass candidate for the job.

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My Real life example of storytelling in a cover letter

Take a look at two of my real life cover letters I used in my job search for a communications role at educational organizations. 

Sample 1 (Traditional):

My experience as a communications professional in education combined with a passion for the higher education make me the ideal candidate for the Communications and Events Manager role. I provide organizations with the knowledge, skills, and leadership they need to build successful communication strategies that engage audiences and build community...

Sample 2 (Storytelling):

If I had to count the number of pep talks I’ve given to nieces, nephews, cousins, friends and just young kids I meet on the street about the value of higher education, it would probably land somewhere in the hundreds. My own journey as a first-generation college student was so transformative, it created a deep sense of commitment to help others pursue higher education...

Which one makes you want to read more? Sample 2 draws the reader in while sharing a little about my passion for higher education. Need more examples? I found this article on The Muse (one of my favorite career resources) with 30+ great samples of how to add a touch of storytelling to make your cover letter stand out.

What else should go in your cover letter?

Once you have your story idea nailed down and have done some research on the company, you can start to shape the remainder of your letter. Here’s a simple cover letter structure that will help you convey why you’re right for the job.

  • Salutation - Use a real name here. Personal is always best.

  • Opening Paragraph - Your story, with a tie in that, highlights why you’re the perfect fit. Be sure to mention the job you're applying for in this graph. 

  • Second Paragraph - Tell them how your experience & skills match the job description. Stick the MOST relevant skills and experiences. Avoid career summaries.

  • Third Paragraph - Close it out. This is your final pitch, what will you bring to the job? Don't forget to thank people for their time and let them know how to reach you to talk about more about the role.

If you’re interested in seeing more of my real-life cover letters or have other career questions, drop me a line. I understand looking for a job is tough so I want to help.  And remember, a strong cover letter combined with the powerful network on BeVisible will take you far, so don't hesitate to reach out to other Visibles.

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