Six Reasons to Use Caution When Telling Stories in Your Application Materials

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Are your cover letters and résumés peppered with phrases such as “outside-the-box thinker,” “results-oriented,” and “team player?”

If you don’t have some facts and stories that demonstrate why that is true, your résumé is likely to hit the circular file.

It’s not enough to say that you are the next best thing since sliced bread; you have to show why. Without giving specific examples of how you embody whatever descriptors you use, they end up being nothing but trite platitudes.

That’s not to say that you have to replace every phrase with a fact or story. There are good reasons why too many stories can be just as detrimental to your application materials:

  1. You don’t have the physical space to include all the anecdotes that will extol each virtue. Cover letters are one page max (some hiring managers say that they prefer only a half-page) and résumés are no more than two pages.  If you go beyond those maximum page limits to include every speck of relevancy, you won’t find many folks who will bother wading through it all.
  2. Too many stories can make you appear too good to be true. I realize that many of you reading this have really done all the wonderful things that you have put on your cover letters and résumés.  The problem is that HR and hiring managers have to contend with the fact that 53% of the population lies on their application materials.  How are they supposed to know who is telling the truth and who isn’t?  If you make yourself sound too great (even if it’s all true), you’re less likely to be believed. Tone it down a little.
  3. It can be harder to write a good cover letter. You want to kick things off with a bang so the person reviewing your materials has sufficient motivation to move on to your résumé.  Wowing them with lots of accomplishments seems like a good way to go.  Unfortunately, if you have to work your cover letter around all the stories you want to include, the flow can be very stilted and hurt your writing style.
  4. You seem like you have a raging ego. Yes, you need to talk about your wonderfulness, but including too many stories can have the same effect as someone who is waving his/her hands and screaming, “Look at me!  I’m so great!” No one wants to work with that guy/gal.
  5. The company focus can be lost. When you are targeting a potential employer during your job search, you need to remember that it’s not all about you!  It’s about the company, their needs, their pain.  You need to submit materials that show off your skills, yes, but it needs to be done in a way that the reader can readily see how your experiences can help them solve their problems.  If you get too “Me, me, me!” sounding, the assumption will be made that you will bring that kind of focus to your work. That doesn’t help them.
  6. You want to save some stories back for the interview. The résumé and cover letter are supposed to be used to give a representational view of who you are.  They are designed to pique the interest of the reader, to get them wanting more.  If you get a call for an interview, you want to have something different that is as impressive as what you had to say in your cover letter and résumé.  If the company learns nothing new about you in the interview, it’s anti-climactic.  They can’t get more excited about you because there’s nothing new to be excited about.

How do you find a good balance of promoting yourself in your cover letter and résumé without going overboard?

Image courtesy of extranoise

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