Denning’s Attention > Desire > Reasons Formula Especially Suited to Cover Letters

Continuing to update some entries from the early years of A Storied Career while I finalize my e-book, Storied Careers and prepare for hosting a teleseminar on 09-09-09. New entries will resume Tuesday, Sept. 8.

Over the years of this blog, and in my book Tell Me About Yourself:, I’ve talked extensively about story formulas that can be used in job-seach communication.

Typical formulas (represented by acronyms) include PAR, SAR, and CAR: Problem • Action • Result; Situation • Action • Result; and Challenge • Action • Result.

Steve Denning suggests a different formula: “I noted that persuading people to change required a shift from the conventional approach to communications of problem • analysis • solution, must be set aside in favor of a very different triad: get attention • stimulate desire • reinforce with reasons.

Denning touches on this concept and gives storied examples in the first chapter of chapter of his , The Secret Language of Leadership (starting on page 27).

Looking back three years I first wrote about Denning’s formula, I can clear see how well it works for cover letters.

Job-seekers can use the formula like this in a cover letter:

Get attention by describing a problem the prospective employer has or a need to organization needs to fill. It must be a problem or need the employer has acknowledged — say, in a job posting or in a networking conversation.

Stimulate desire by telling how you can solve the problem or meet the need for the employer.

Reinforce with reasons by telling a story about how you solved a similar problem or met a similar need for a past employer. This technique works because employers know that past behavior is the best predictor of future performance.