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Surefire Cover-Letter Technique:
Using Emotional Stories in Job-Search
This article details one of the types of stories job-seekers can tell in a cover letter and provides examples of how to tell that type of story for job-search success.
Stories that Touch the Heartstrings.
Emotional stories can be extremely effective, but they must be handled with kid gloves. While some employers might be touched by the examples below, focus-group participants interviewed for the book from which this article is excerpted did not find stories with a "negative" element to be enticing. One participant said, "None of these conveys a positive experience [that] would transfer to their employment and make them a better worker:"
I can make a valuable contribution to Maplewood Children's Hospital, based on my past experiences. As a child I spent a lot of time in hospitals, and I vividly remember my feelings in response to the environment. I would like to ensure that children feel as comfortable as possible in an otherwise scary situation.
While working in a summer internship with the Red Cross in Rwanda, I was exposed to human suffering far worse than anything I ever could have imagined. It is out of the sensitivity I acquired toward the misery of oppressed people that I decided to dedicate my career toward trying to ease suffering. That is why I am writing to you about the social-worker position you currently have available.
Recently I have spent many long hours at the bedsides of my two brothers, who were both hospitalized for lengthy periods for separate traumas. I thus have personal experience with both short- and long-term patients and the problems they endure while in the hospital.
So, what kinds of "heartstrings" stories are effective? Those that make a more positive connection between the job-seeker's heart-tugging experience and his or her ability to do the job as in these samples:
A particular strength of mine is establishing rapport with patients, often perceiving nonverbal cues that communicate how they are feeling. I am then adept at motivating them to manage or even overcome their dysfunction. I will always remember my 88-year-old patient, Dottie, and the way she smiled with tears in her eyes after my therapy enabled her to write a letter to her first great-grandchild.
Through my experiences, I have gained a deep conviction that improving the quality of early care of children is the best way to improve society. The care that children receive in these early years is pivotal to whether they become pro- or anti-social. The program I developed provided 60 children with appropriate guidance, nutrition, safety, and unconditional love, and had a lasting impact as they developed into adulthood. A much higher percentage of them than is typical for that population are now college bound.
The world of insurance doesn't seem like a breeding ground for the kind of compassion you need in a counselor, but for me it was. When I was in health-insurance claims, a family had lost its home during the Christmas holidays. They lacked the funds to cover their benefit premiums, and their coverage was about to be cancelled. I came up with a payment plan. I also put the father's disability claim on the fast track and collaborated with co-workers to send four big boxes with wrapped Christmas presents to arrive on Christmas Eve.
As the coordinator of a tutoring program for disadvantaged youth, I have developed my ability to motivate and make a difference. I helped a little boy, Jeremy, improve his reading and math grades from F's to B's. The same enthusiasm and persuasive skills that aided me in recruiting 115 new volunteers for service projects this year make me a valuable asset for your organization.
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