How to use your stories to write sparkling cover letters

The best part about your own story.png

After you've collected all your unique, hands-on experience, it would be to shame to waste it in a generic cover letter. 

Here's what I mean. Many cover letters include stupendously boring body paragraphs like this one:

Working in laboratory settings has been a passion for many years. From the moment I stepped foot into the AP Chemistry lab I knew this was where I wanted to be. In college, I spent many hours learning how to be a valuable lab assistant, ensuring that I developed the skills to become highly competent, detail oriented, and able to take preventative actions to minimize any safety hazards.  The focus of these efforts has been to become a qualified candidate for a crime lab such as yours.

Paragraphs like this are problematic because they don’t include evidence. They expect the reader to simply believe the claims that are being made, rather than proving their skills or competence with compelling proof.

This is where your own, unique experience comes in. You can use it here to make your cover letter interesting!

For example, this body paragraph backs up a specific claim about the writer’s skill with a story from their real life experience. Most importantly, the story includes concrete evidence, which makes it much more impactful and relevant to the position:

My work in the Montana State University’s BioDesign Institute challenged me to develop the attention to detail necessary for assisting in a fast-paced laboratory. For two years I have given hands-on assistance to six PhD students, supporting their research while managing my time independently to give each project the attention it required. These projects involved extracting RNA, PCR reactions, and creating, running, and analyzing gel electrophoresis. This experience has prepared me to prioritize tasks and work efficiently in the Gilman County forensic lab.

Let's break that story down into a simple structure. You can use this skeleton to fit a lot of quality information into a small space, so your body paragraphs get right to the point while featuring the experience that makes you special.

1) Make a claim. After you’ve thoroughly read the job description and decided which desired skills, competencies, or experiences you want to feature, make a claim:

Coordinating logistics in a swiftly changing environment is a skill I have mastered through supporting a 3-person executive team.

2) Back it up with a short story illustrating how you modeled the skill or competency in one of your experiences.

This position required me to maximize the impact of our organization’s leaders by ensuring they that were always prepared to be productive. In an ever shifting startup environment, this meant changing priorities at a moment’s notice to prepare travel itineraries, update slide decks to reflect the latest product developments, anticipating needs and preparing to meet them in advance. On my departure, my ability to pivot with grace was rewarded with a special gift - gold pointe shoes.

3) Project the skill forward. Help the reader connect the dots by clarifying how the skills you developed in your experience can be applied in the new position, or how it might benefit the organization.

As an Operation Lead, my experience proactively identifying needs will ensure that Sandbox Cowork is always appropriately staffed and stocked, so members can focus on doing what they love.

The best thing about featuring your own stories, from your own experiences, is that NOBODY ELSE will have exactly the same ones. Your experience is what separates you from other candidates, so show it off!

If you've never written a cover letter before (or if you have but you used one of those awful templates from Google) there'e more to learn. My guide, How to Write a Resume and Cover Letter that Gets You Noticed, is a good place to start.