Be Selective When Choosing Stories to Tell in Cover Letters

Anna Marie Trester is a sociolinguist who recently made the point in her eponymous blog that as researchers, she and her colleagues bring special skills to crafting resumes and cover letters.

I was pleased to note her support for telling stories in cover letters. Here’s what she said in her post:

We are aware of the power of narrative. Use your cover letter to tell the story of your resume (the goal is not to encapsulate your life story, but tell your reader how to read this one representation of it). We know that in storytelling, we cannot say anything and everything. We must choose. And such choices carry meaning. Just as Schiffrin (1996) tells us “Our transformation of experience into stories, and the way we carry it out, is thus a way to show our interlocutors the salience of particular aspects of our identities” (199). We can only chose some aspects of our professional identities to showcase in a resume and cover letter. The task is to choose the best ones for the job, and showcase them well. One piece of advice that I heard from a career expert which I thought was very useful was to think about your resume as a wish list. Of course you perform many duties as part of your current job, and you have performed many at your past jobs as well. Given that you cannot tell the stories about them all, select the ones that you would most like to do again (careful of course not to misrepresent your duties). When you talk about things that you enjoyed doing, you are more likely to strike the right tone and communicate enthusiasm as well…

I can’t argue with that advice, but I would add to it that the job-seeker should keep in mind choosing a story that is relevant for the employer and vacancy he or she is targeting in the letter. The cover letter is the job-seeker’s best opportunity to customize the application package to the specific opening and employer. He or she should research what’s important to the employer (that information may or may not be evident in the job posting) and choose a story that aligns with that priority.