By Tyler Faust, R.N.
Cover letters are often overlooked as an important part of the application process for nursing jobs. When looking to separate yourself from other applicants, a well-written cover letter can not only tell the hiring manager more about who you are but also help you stand out compared to other candidates. A strong cover letter is an integral part of putting together the best application possible. Let’s discuss how to develop a high-quality cover letter as a nurse. A quality cover letter must:
Be Clearly Written
Every sentence in a cover letter should be valuable to the reader/hiring manager. It must be clearly written and succinct. Often there is a tendency to add filler words such as “really” and “very” or even write sentences that could be broken down into shorter sentences without losing meaning. Although there are many ways to structure your cover letter, writing a cover letter in a chronological format is a great way to start. Be sure to infuse the intent behind your career moves along the way. Let’s discuss an example:
I started my career as an inpatient nurse on a medical GI unit to develop critical thinking and nursing skills and then transitioned to the ambulatory setting to diversify my experiences by exposing myself to a different practice setting.
This example outlines the clinical experience while discussing the desires to develop important skills. It tells the hiring manager a lot more about the candidate than a resume can because it shares the motivations and “why” behind the experiences.
The cover letter should focus on the highlights of the resume and bring those deeper than the resume is designed to go. A cover letter should be one page or less. It shouldn’t go over a page and a half even if you have a lot of experience. The intent of the cover letter is to grab the hiring manager's attention through key experiences relevant to the job posting, not to be a comprehensive accumulation of your experiences, that is what your resume is for. This will force you to get down to the essential things you want to highlight about yourself. Boil all your experiences down to the purest and most relevant experiences you have that relate to the job posting. What remains is the content for your cover letter.
A quality cover letter should explicitly state intent. What type of job are you looking for and why? How do your desires and skills match that of the job posting? Vague and general statements might as well be left out. For example: I desire to obtain a nursing leadership role where I can grow my leadership skills. This example is vague and boring. It doesn’t give a hiring manager confidence that the candidate wants the posted job. When looking at turnover rates and the associated costs, hiring managers value candidates that are genuinely invested in the job in a unique way (e.g. department, patient population, practice).
A higher-quality example could be: I desire to obtain a staff nurse position in the pediatric ICU where I can express my passion for caring for children with high acuity. This example identifies the specific position and expresses that the candidate has a passion for caring for the pediatric population. Additionally, this candidate mentioned the desire to care for pediatric patients with high acuity, meaning the PICU is probably their most desired setting. This example will give a hiring manager confidence the nurse wants to be there and will be a good fit for the job. There should be two to four sentences dedicated to describing intent, generally towards the latter part of the cover letter.
Describe the Candidate
A cover letter has the ability to give the reader a feeling that they are getting to know the candidate. Specifically a cover letter should exemplify your strengths, experiences, desires, interests, and perspectives. If your cover letter comes across as mundane and dull, then you come across as mundane and dull. Similarly, if your cover letter expresses enthusiasm, professionalism, and critical thinking, that is how you will come across to the hiring manager. A cover letter and resume reflect a person, not a set of experiences, so the more you can bring forth you as a person, the more appeal this will be to the hiring manager.
Stays True to the Candidate
In an effort to describe yourself and abilities in a strategic way, be sure to stay true to your strengths and experiences. A hyperinflated view of self isn’t appealing to most hiring managers and could be a turn off. One or two years of experience within a specialty doesn’t necessarily make you an expert, so don’t call yourself that. It would be a great let down to the hiring manager if your cover letter or resume boasted of things that you couldn’t back up in your interview, much less the job. An accurate approach to how you display yourself on your cover letter is a matter of integrity and respect. If you are not highly skilled at something, don’t say you are. On the flip side, don’t be afraid to highlight expertise or skills when warranted. If you have been in the same department for ten years, most professionals would consider you an expert in that department and you should add that into your cover letter and resume. A genuine and honest assessment of your skills and abilities should be on display in your cover letter, show the hiring manger who you are.
In next Tuesday's post we will continue to focus on writing a cover letter and how it should relate to your resume.
Tyler Faust is a full-time registered nurse and part-time freelance healthcare writer. He has his BSN and Master's degree and Winona State University and has worked at Mayo Clinic for over 7 years. Currently, he works as a nurse manager. Tyler is a creative thinker, strategist, and passionate about leadership.