First impressions count in the job search, and that's why a dynamite cover letter can mean the difference between success and failure. But what makes a dazzling cover letter? Several career experts share their advice.
Get to the Point
State the purpose of your letter in the first paragraph. Small talk is generally a waste of space. "Most of the cover letters we do for clients are three paragraphs or so and fill less than a page," says Shel Horowitz, director of Accurate Writing & More in Hadley, Massachusetts.
Tailor Your Letter to the Reader
Focus on the needs of the specific healthcare organization, not on your own requirements as a job seeker, says Lorna Lindsey, director of academic affairs for CompHealth, a healthcare recruiting and staffing firm based in Salt Lake City. Visit your potential employer's Web site or read the company's annual report to learn more about it, and then use your cover letter to demonstrate how your skills and experience can benefit the organization.
Maintain the Right Tone
A cover letter should be "businesslike, friendly and enthusiastic," says Bill Frank, founder of CareerLab in Denver and author of 200 Letters for Job Hunters.
Health professionals have the "opportunity to reveal their passion" through a cover letter, but the document "shouldn't become too syrupy, or it loses its objectivity and professionalism," says Lorne Weeks III, MD, a healthcare consultant for the Physician Career Network, a division of CareerLab.
Make It Memorable
New graduates can make their cover letters stand out by personalizing their stories. If you decided to model your career after a physical therapist who helped a family member, for example, tell that story rather than making the blander claim that you've always wanted to help people. "If your story is unique, it's no longer a cliche," Frank says.
Stay on Track
The best cover letters are direct and concise, says Kathy Campbell, employment and employee relations manager at Holy Spirit Health System in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. "Don't include a lot of unnecessary personal information," she says.
Highlight Your Biggest Successes
Your cover letter shouldn't just summarize your career or repeat the same information from your resume, according to Wendy Enelow, founder of the Career Masters Institute in Fresno, California. "You want it to highlight the successes and achievements of your career that are most related to the types of positions for which you are applying," she says.
According to Frank, you should mention career-related "triples and home runs" in your cover letter.
Use Power Phrases
Use strong action words to convey your experiences and illustrate your qualifications with phrases like "I have a strong background in" and "I have a talent for," Lindsey says.
Don't be shy about selling yourself, Enelow notes, since that's the purpose of a cover letter.
Show Your Team Spirit
If you have room for a few extra sentences in your cover letter, Lindsey suggests emphasizing your teamwork and communication skills. "In this day and age, teamwork and communication are vitally important in almost every healthcare position, from the lowest to the highest paid," she says.
Spice Up Your Writing
Effective cover letters are a little different from all the others but still straightforward, experts say. For example, the boring, traditional way to begin a cover letter is: "I am writing in response to your advertisement for a nurse and have enclosed my resume for your review." The better opener could be: "Your ad on Monster for a nurse captured my attention and motivated me to learn more about this opportunity." Then describe how your qualifications match the employer's needs.
An unforgivable error some job seekers make is failing to follow up after promising to do so in a cover letter. If you write in your cover letter that you'll call the letter recipient on a certain day or by a specific deadline, do it.
- Provide salary information when it is not requested.
- Address a letter recipient by anything other than his name. Avoid "Dear Sirs" at all costs.
- Write a canned, generic letter that looks like it was copied from a book.
- Start the first paragraph and too many other sentences with "I."
- Make spelling errors and typos.
- Handwrite a cover letter.
- Use shoddy paper, or paper that's different from your resume paper.
- Cram too much information into a small space.
- Include irrelevant personal information or job experience.
- Overstate your accomplishments or contradict your resume.