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Dos and Don’ts of a Cover Letter

Want to stand out and exponentially increase your chances of landing the job you want ? A well-crafted cover letter grabs the reader’s interest and convinces them that you are the right person for the job. It’s easy to create an outstanding cover letter once you know the Dos and Don’ts.

It’s important to clearly show that you:

  • have the skills and job requirements
  • want to work at their particular organization

It should show your personality and be visually organized with an orderly flow. After reading your cover letter, the recruiter should be racing to pick up the phone and schedule an interview.

Structure

Do not use a generic cover letter. A recruiter can spot a generic cover letter from miles away, they have seen them all.  Do follow these guidelines. A cover letter should have three to five paragraphs.

  • The first paragraph is introductory and states the purpose of the letter
  • The next two paragraphs highlight your strengths by using examples
  • The final paragraph includes a call to action

Salutation

Do use the person’s name, as in “Dear Ms. Emmett”. Do not use “To whom it may concern” because it shows a lack of interest and effort. With a few phone calls, it is almost always possible to find out the name of the person you are addressing. Using a person’s name is personal, and pulls them in.

First Paragraph

The first paragraph is introductory. Do grab the reader’s interest with your opening sentence. Basically you are saying “I’m interested in the position” but infuse it with a little something extra.

“I’m excited to see an opening for an oncology position” 

“I heard about an opening through Clair Damron, a charge nurse on 5N”

“I saw in the news that your hospital earned an A rating from Leapfrog for the 6th year in a row”

The first example conveys your excitement. The second is an example of smart networking. Drop names if you have any connections. The third shows your acknowledgment of the hospital’s achievements, and that you are savvy. Segue to the job opportunity.

Pro Tip: How can you make these even better? Rewrite sentences peppered with the word “I” to reduce the number of “I” words in your cover letter. Here’s how:

“It was exciting to see an opening for an oncology position”

“The news reported that your facility earned an A rating from Leapfrog 6 years in a row”

“Clair Damron, charge nurse on 5N, mentioned there is an opening”

Next, briefly show that you meet the job requirements.

“My name is Kim, and I have 4 years of acute care MedSurg experience. I’m highly interested in the oncology opportunity and believe I would be a perfect fit.”

Middle Paragraphs

In the middle paragraphs, highlight your strengths. Do not “fluff and stuff” with overly-used cliches and buzzwords. Do strive to use words that others will not. Quality over quantity. Do not write lengthy sentences for the sake of writing. Do keep it short but impactful. 

Do include intentional stories, because they are memorable.  “My father died at age 54 from prostate cancer. I always knew I wanted to work in the field, and I’ve been waiting for an opportunity, specifically at your hospital, because of your mission to inspire hope and well-being”

Give examples. Don’t say “I’m a “problem-solver”. Do say “I served on a unit-based committee that reduced HAPI prevalence by 55% within 6 months”. That says you are engaged, committed to solutions, and understand the hospital’s problems.

Instead of the commonly used “team player” say “My colleagues say they love it when I’m on, because I help them with admissions and whatever else I can do”.

Final Paragraph: Call to Action

The last paragraph in this sample includes a “call to action”, meaning a request for the next step.

A letter and resume can only tell you so much, and I would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you in person.  I will contact you within a few days to discuss the next step. I look forward to meeting you. Please do not hesitate to contact me at 555-4343-2121”

Note this is an active, not passive ending. A passive ending is “I hope to hear from you”.

Pro Tips

Here are some creative pro tips. Consider an attention-getting top-centered headliner across the top of your cover letter.

Let me show you why I’m  a perfect fit for your position! 

Next, do add a “P.S.”.  A P.S. adds another unique touch. People’s eyes are drawn to a P.S. Sometimes it’s read before the body of the letter! This one contains contact information.

P.S. If you would like to meet with me sooner, you may reach me immediately on my cell at 555-4343-2121. Thank you kindly for your time and consideration, Ms.Emmett

The creative use of  a top centered headline at the beginning and a P.S. at the end help to make your cover letter stand out.

Do not add “References on request”. The employer will ask for them at a later date.

Be sure and read How To Get Past ATS Software to optimize your cover letter.

Following these tips, you will be well on your way to writing an outstanding cover letter!

About Nurse Beth

Beth Hawkes (Nurse Beth) is an accomplished nurse working in Acute Care as a Staff Development Professional Specialist. She is also an accomplished author, blogger, speaker, and columnist. As Nurse Beth, she regularly answers career-related questions at allnurses.com. Check out her book, “Your Last Nursing Class: How to Land Your First Job”.

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