Story + Skills: The Formula That’ll Make it Quick and Easy to Write Your Next Cover Letter

A great cover letter should do several things.

First, it should make a fantastic first impression—and fast. After all, this is often the very first interaction you’ll have with the person reading your job application.

Secondly, you’ll want to make it clear why you’re applying to this job, not any other one you found on the internet. Because, like anyone, hiring managers like to feel like you’ve put some time and effort into them.

And finally, you should show that you’re the person who can come right in and meet the company’s needs.

Now, it can be tough to squeeze all of this information into a few paragraphs. But today, we’re making it easy for you, with a template you can adapt to any job you’re applying for.

We call it the Story + Skills Formula. And it looks like this:

The Story

First, open your cover letter with a short, engaging story. About what, you ask? Perhaps you’ll explain how you found the company or why you’d like to work there. You could talk about why you were drawn to your career path. Or, you could highlight a key piece of your experience you want the company to know about right away.

No matter what you choose, make it simple (no need to be wordy), compelling (again, first impressions matter!), and obvious that you’ve done your research on the company or role.

Need some inspiration? Here’s a big ol’ list of examples, as well as three of our favorites:

  • When I was seven, I wanted to be the GEICO gecko when I grew up. I eventually realized that wasn’t an option, but you can imagine my excitement when I came across the events manager position, which would have me working side by side with my favorite company mascot.
  • My last boss once told me that my phone manner could probably defuse an international hostage situation. I’ve always had a knack for communicating with people—the easygoing and the difficult alike—and I’d love to bring that skill to the office manager position at Shutterstock.
  • Last December, I ousted our company’s top salesperson from his spot—and he hasn’t seen it since. Which means, I’m ready for my next big challenge, and the sales manager role at your company just might be it.

The Skills

Now that you’ve caught their attention, it’s time to tell the hiring manager why you’re the one for the job. In this section, you’ll want to pick two or three skills, as well as supporting facts or stories that showcase those qualifications.

Which skills should you choose? You’ll want to communicate the most compelling information about your background possible, so they may be slightly different for each role you apply to. Take a look at the job description (or, better yet, find someone on the inside who can give you the real scoop). What does the hiring manager need most in the person who fills this position, and what in that vein do you bring to the table? That overlap is where you want to focus.

Say, for example, you’re applying for a job as a sales manager, with the key elements of the role including mentoring junior employees and streamlining operations. This section might look like this:

What I’d bring to the table as the Sales Manager is:

  • 5+ Years Leading and Transforming Teams: In my last role as a sales team lead, I coached and mentored seven junior account executives who were struggling to meet their quota. Within a year of my taking on this role and revamping the training program, every one of them were meeting or exceeding their goal, and four of them were promoted to the next level.
  • Proven Operational Excellence: Most sales managers try to stay far away from operations, but it’s one of the things I love most. At my previous company, I streamlined the way we tracked leads in Salesforce, saving our 30-person team more than 10 hours each every month. Since then, I’ve been asked by three other startups to consult on their sales operations.

The Wrap-Up

You’ve caught their eye, you’ve talked about your skills, and now it’s time to bring it all together with a quick wrap-up that summarizes all of the above.

You can also use this section to give the hiring manager any other information that’s not obvious from your application. (For example, if you’re applying for a job in a different city than the one you currently live in, you might include a couple of lines about why you’re moving) or re-iterate your excitement for the company or role.

This can be short and sweet, something like this:

I’d love to talk about how my experience at high-growth startups could help WeWork grow and scale operations. As someone who thrives in a fast-paced, entrepreneurial environment—not to mention a beautiful workspace like WeWork—I’d love to be part of the team that’s transforming how startups work.

Bring it all together, and you’ve got a compelling cover letter that is bound to catch a hiring manager’s eye.

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About Richard Moy

Richard Moy
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy.

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