Storytelling in your cover letter| why and how

The labour market has changed due to COVID-19. With a sudden influx of job-seeking professionals, you might wonder how to make your application stand out. I am a corporate recruiter, and I will tell you how.

Staring at a blank page before you

It is a Monday afternoon. You are browsing the web for your next challenge and, after a little bit of clicking and scrolling, your face lights up: there it is. You enthusiastically read the job description, you find yourself ticking all the boxes on the requirements and your resume is simply begging to be uploaded. You fulfill your resume’s wish, you click ‘apply’, and for a second there, all seems right in the world. Suddenly, a notification pops up and the temperature in the room seems to drop slightly: ‘Please add a cover letter to complete your application’. You stare at your screen.

After a couple of minutes, you decide that you will indeed write a cover letter and you fire up another search: ‘cover letter template’. But wait… Please don’t. We, recruiters, and hiring managers will know it is a template from the moment we open it up and this might influence our perception of your application and motivation. It might be the last thing you want to hear if you are actively applying for jobs, but writing a good cover letter will take some time. Luckily, there is a formula that has a high chance of bringing you success: use storytelling to spruce up your cover letter.

Release your inhibitions

Perhaps you are wondering whether or not to include a cover letter at all. The answer to this ‘do I really have to?’ is simply: ‘yes’ – a cover letter adds definite value to your application. Most vacancies attract quite some traffic and during the initial cv review recruiters and hiring managers will keep an eye on two things: do you fit our requirements, and why have you applied. This is where your cover letter comes in and why your letter should not be a recap or bullet point summary of what is already in your resume.

You find yourself ticking all the boxes on the requirements, but your cover letter should not be a bullet-point summary of your resume.

After all, people connect to people; this means that learning about your story makes us feel closer to you as a person: our new colleague. A well-written cover letter conveys personality. To this end, you could perhaps write about how you ended up in this line of work, about a project you are proud of, a challenge you have faced or about what you dream to achieve. By linking the skills or requirements described in the job description to your story, you are selling yourself to us. You can even add those requirements that require learning from your side so as to show us that you are aware of these ‘shortcomings’ but willing to overcome them. Perhaps you have already done so before? We would want to know.

You might wonder how literal you should take the term ‘storytelling’. Rest assured, there is no need for an epic poem about your heroic deeds – keep it real, keep it personal. Connect to us the way you would naturally do if we would be face-to-face.

The rest is still unwritten

So there you are, at your desk, kitchen table, couch, lounge chair, or wherever you are setting out to write your cover letter. A hero, a handmaiden, a jester or a diamond-in-the-rough possibly on the cusp of starting a new adventure at a new job. What do you want us to know about you? Share it with us.

In my next blog post, I will deep dive into the techniques behind storytelling – so stay tuned!

Learn more

More information about Maud van Turnhout, corporate recruiter at KPMG, can be found here. Learn more about her tips for how to prepare for job interviews here.

Find our strategies and tactics for how to prepare for job interviews as well as our four-part video series on YouTube. In this series, you will gain insight into which interview questions you can expect, which ones you can ask, how to respond to those and what language (i.e. job interview terminology) to use during interviews. Learn more.

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