Ch. 3: How to Write a Cover Letter
In the previous section, Ch.2: Cover Letter Format, we covered how to professionally build your cover letter to meet the expectations of recruiters. Here, we'll discuss how to write your cover letter, section-by-section to create the best letter possible to land an interview.
The better your cover letter, the better your chance of securing an interview and leading to a potential position.
Knowing how to write a cover letter is key to coming off as a professional and landing the job interview you want. Since it's the first impression a prospective employer will have of you, make sure the document is clear and concise and conveys how you want to be received.
Typically, employers and hiring managers will read the cover letter before opening up the resume. This means that if your cover letter is deemed as unprofessional or doesn’t sell your skills for the open position, they might not even consider opening your resume and reviewing your professional experience.
Luckily, writing a cover letter has become very standardized, which means there aren't that many differences when it comes to format.
However, fitting your qualifications and achievements into three small paragraphs can be much more difficult than writing something long-winded - as you might be unsure of what to include and exclude.
While learning how to write a cover letter, be sure to keep in mind that you can only include so much, so only include the most important, most relevant factors to get your point across.
Part of the tricky thing writing a cover letter is that you need to know what to exclude, and what to include. Including too much information will feel like a tall task for the healthcare recruiting and hiring manager to sift through. Whereas including too little will make it seem as if you aren’t qualified for the position itself.
Writing a good cover letter is a balancing act, and we’ve got all the things you need to consider when crafting your cover letter.
How to Write a Cover Letter:
A strong cover letter is comprised of 3 components: the introduction salutation, the body paragraphs, and the conclusion, including salutation, signature, and other information.
(The numbers in the document above match the sections below)
1. Introduction Salutation
You'll catch their attention much more efficiently by stating their name, giving your application priority over others.
Including their name will also highlight that you have written a personal cover letter to them, and not just some generic one you send to every healthcare recruiter or hiring manager.
The more personal your cover letter feels to them, the more authentic you will come across in your desire to have a position with the company you are applying for.
2. Body Paragraphs
This is where you should let your uniqueness shine. Use the body section to show where you came from, what you've achieved, and what skills you have to meet their need.
Write about situations that are relevant to the job and highlight a skill they're looking for without restating the information on your resume.
Give them great examples and tell compelling stories, engaging their attention. Highlight your key accomplishments and show them how you can fulfill the job position. Give the employer something they want.
Remember, when writing these various sections - it’s important that you showcase value.
You want to showcase the value that you can provide the company and why you should be considered for the available position over other candidates.
Employers don’t want just want do’ers, they want achievers. So think about that when crafting each individual section.
The first paragraph should remain relatively short and concise and use it to grab them with a strong introduction -- introduce yourself, and explain why you're contacting them. Include your name, the position you're applying for, and where or how you found out about the position.
If you know anybody that works at the company (or any person you can name drop) list them; tell how you know them or that they referred you. Referrals have much more impact on employers than blind-hires.
In addition, in the first paragraph you want to detail some of your general qualifications. Some of these general qualifications include: basic info about yourself, degrees obtained, area of study, area of expertise, and career goals.
After detailing some of the general qualifications above and providing a little bit of a background for yourself, you want to detail how those general qualifications and your background align with the goals of the company.
As we mentioned earlier, it is important to showcase how your background aligns more closely with the company goals, more-so than other applicants.
The second paragraph is where things can become more in depth since it's the heart of your letter. Use this section to show how you can meet the company’s need, as well as, show how you’ve addressed similar situations - using specific examples and prior experience.
Essentially, this paragraph is useful for talking about the job description. One thing you want to do before writing this section is to research the company.
It’s one thing to know what a company does and detailing how your goals align in the first paragraph - it’s another thing to detail how you are well versed in their industry and current and future trends.
Showcasing this knowledge is a great way of showing your passion for the industry itself. One of the common questions in an interview is how familiar you are with the industry itself.
Those applicants who showcase their experience in the industry can set themselves apart from those applicants who know nothing about the industry.
When an applicant is perceived as having little knowledge of an industry, companies worry that they might have to spend extra time and effort in getting the employee up to speed with current trends and future directions.
Another great tip to use in your second paragraph of your cover letter is to include specific keywords that were in the job posting itself.
In this way, if the company you are applying to requires a cover letter submission through an applicant tracking system that pulls keywords and information out of each document, you can have several keywords and keyword phrases that relate to the job posting itself.
Something every employer is happy to see, as it highlights the fact that you did your research on the position itself.
Highlight aspects of recent work that relate to the position you're applying to, and how you've gone above and beyond to accomplish goals relating to it.
You're allowed to use experience from education, work, or volunteer/charity as long as you don't simply repeat what's on your resume.
You can also use this section to elaborate on accomplishments that your resume might not speak about; use this paragraph to highlight your strengths and make a good impression to your employer.
Lastly, use this paragraph to help transition to the third paragraph, tying everything together.
Tie everything together and show/explain how you're the best candidate for the position with the third paragraph. Further tailor yourself to the position and summarize your accomplishments in a way that casts you as the candidate who will solve their problem. This is what the main objective of the third paragraph is; tell them how you can help.
You can elaborate on aspects of your qualifications that don't directly relate to your experiences as well, but would be beneficial to the employer.
Think outside the box here and be creative with the connections you make; everything in this paragraph should show them how you can solve their issues.
Another thing you wish to accomplish in this third paragraph is to create a call to action. You want to drive the individual reading your cover letter to invite you to an interview or the next step in the application process.
Lastly, tell the employer that you look forward to hearing from them and specify a date in which you intend to follow up on your application.
It is important that you tactfully ask for an interview in the closing; which, leads into the final section of the letter content.
In addition, you want to thank them for spending time and reading your cover letter.
3. Closing Salutation & Signature
Ask for the interview. There is one reason for writing a cover letter and resume, and that's to get an interview. Thank them for their consideration in advance, and let them know you would like a follow up and put a future meeting on the table.
Again, don’t drag it out; be clear and concise. Rewrite your phone number and give them an invitation to call you anytime to schedule an interview.
Cover letter conclusion example:
Cover Letter Tips - Dos:
Writing your cover letter with these three blocks will set the foundation for your document, but it is important that you follow a few rules to enable your cover letter to hit a homerun. Here are six things you need to consider while writing:
1. Know your audience
It is vital that you know who you will be writing to. Just like you resume, you want to draft your cover letter with a prospective employer in mind and write for them. Do research on the company you want to work for and determine the gatekeeper.
Write for the hiring personnel and focus on what their company needs. It doesn't matter what you want as a job seeker as much, as it’s what you can do for the company as a whole which will determine whether or not you get the position.
So, use your cover letter to demonstrate how you can help.
Researching your company is easy with today’s technology; Google and LinkedIn are powerful tools for researching anything you need regarding the job market.
You can find the company's website and specific individuals who work there, and it is good to research both the company and specific people, as mentioned previously.
You can use the company’s website to find the name of the person you want to write to; the website will give you the name, exact title, and what they need/do for the company.
If you can’t find what you need on the company’s webpage, you can search Google for online directories — sometimes just typing in the name of the company can pull up documents and archives on your prospective employer.
In addition, these google searches might even provide additional contact details such as different emails that might be in use, or other important individuals you might want to CC (carbon copy) in your email.
As much of the hiring process is determined by several individuals, it would be a good idea to make sure that the content over your cover letter is accurate for the person who would be making the hiring decision or reviewing the applications as they get submitted.
Be friendly, professional, and enthusiastic about the field you are applying to. Nobody wants a robot that churns out blanket statements and boring sentences.
Healthcare recruiters and hiring managers can tell right off the bat whether or not your cover letter is a generic one that you send to every position you apply for, or if you have hand crafted it for the individual position.
Your tone can indicate whether or not it is a generic cover letter, or if you have specifically crafted it for the respective position.
One way to showcase that you have specifically crafted the cover letter for the respective position is to show the company that you want to work in that specific field, that you’re good at your job, and that you love doing what you do.
Be engaging. Ask questions your prospective employer might ask themselves, and answer them with examples of how you tackled obstacles and accomplished similar tasks that align themselves with what the company needs.
3. Be Compelling
Don't be boring. Most people remain too stuffy in their letters and use the same cliche statements; "I'm responding to...; I can do...".
Instead, tell about interesting adventures that demonstrate skills you can bring to the table; talk of your travels and combine that with lessons you learned that also apply to the position.
You want to separate yourself from the other candidates who will be using these generic statements. One great way is to tell a story.
Tell a story to demonstrate your skills instead of just saying you have the skills. It is more interesting and memorable to tell about the time your skills were put to the test and how you rose to the occasion.
One of the common questions in an interview is to talk about when you have used specific skills related to the position.
So if you do decide to use a story about using your skills in your cover letter, remember to bring it up in the interview once again.
This way, you can remind healthcare recruiters and hiring managers about your unique cover letter if they happen to forget it by the time the interview rolls around.
4. Be Concrete
One thing you want to make sure that you do is to avoid the abstract. Give specific accounts and tell about actual stories that tie in with concrete skills and accomplishments that are relevant to what the company needs for the job.
One additional thing you should avoid doing is use flowery language. As we mentioned earlier, you want to make sure that you avoid including flowery language that would make your cover letter longer than it needs to be.
Avoid flowery language and provide very specific examples on why you are great candidate and can help the company be great.
5. Be Concise
Employers go through roughly 200 cover letters per position, so to have the best chance of staying out of the trash, keep it short and sweet. Avoid being redundant in your cover letter; It is important to be direct and cut to the chase.
Don’t drag the cover letter out and don’t add too much irrelevant personal information. The whole document should stick to the three blocks and be about three paragraphs—try to stay at one page, three-quarters if possible.
Only include the information that is relevant to the position in your cover letter.
6. Sell Yourself
A well written cover letter enables you to make a great first impression and is meant to highlight your strengths and to sell yourself to your prospective employer.
Don’t sound too haughty, but it’s okay to brag on yourself a little—as long as you have concrete instances to demonstrate your skills.
Highlight your successes and reinforce your resume; don’t repeat it, but back it up with examples of why you are the best at what you do.
It really elaborates upon the achievements in your resume, or add some depth that your resume can't convey.
Among all things, be sure to use strong verbs and strong examples-- remember, be compelling.
Knowing what to avoid can be as important as knowing what to include, and try to avoid mistakes that can potentially land your document in the trash can.
Cover Letter Tips - Don'ts:
Now that we’ve covered all of the things you should include in your cover letter, here are a few things you should avoid including.
As mentioned previously, you want to ensure that you only include all the necessary details, so avoid including the following things.
1. Don’t Be Dull
The first thing you want to avoid doing, is appearing to be dull. In essence, you don’t want to be dull. Spice it up a little.
Many professionals will tell you that you want to be as plain jane as possible, but you also have to remember that hiring managers and healthcare recruiters read hundreds of cover letters for a vacant position.
This means that after a while, every single cover letter starts to blur together. You don’t want to just be another cover letter in the stack, you want to stand out a bit.
You want to stand out in the best way possible, which is to make the healthcare recruiter or hiring manager feel like they have to get in touch with you to learn more about you and see how your skills would be a good fit for the position.
Don’t write like a robot - show some personality. Try to compel them and sell yourself in your cover letter.
You want to be careful to avoid making it seem as if you are over-selling yourself or boasting about your experience.
Doing so will make it seem as if you are boasting about your skills to hide your inexperience in other areas, or that you will be difficult to work with due to your boastful personality.
Essentially, there is a delicate balance you need to find in how much you sell yourself in your cover letter.
In the same essence, you don’t want to undersell yourself, because then you might come off as unqualified.
Lastly, tell them what a great company they are, and demonstrate how you can contribute to that greatness through the use of your skill set and experience.
2. Don’t Talk About Salary
One of the questions that is frequently asked on applications is what your expected or desired salary would be the for the available position.
Because of the fact that this question is one of the mandatory questions, many choose to include it on their cover letter to showcase that they reviewed the application and put it on there for additional consideration.
Even though many people choose to put it on the cover letter, it is not recommended.
Just don't do it. One of the problems that come with putting your desired salary or salary range on your cover letter is that it creates the illusion that the only thing you care about is the money.
You don't want want the main reason you want the job to be about money, and It’s not important at this juncture and any talk of it can hinder negotiation tactics.
If you place your desired salary range too high or too low, you can automatically disqualify yourself from future consideration.
If you place your desired salary range too high, then your cover letter will automatically disqualify you from companies who cannot afford to pay someone that much money - or require that they work their way up to that pay grade.
If you place your desired salary too low, then it makes it appear as if you are desperate or that you are unqualified for the position.
On the rare occasion that your desired salary is in the range that the employer is willing to pay, then you have negotiated against yourself by letting them know the range you would settle at.
You want to avoid negotiating against yourself, as you want to showcase that your skill set and experience would make you a better fit than the other applications the employer is reviewing.
Wait until you get an offer to negotiate salary — unless they bring it up beforehand.
3. To Whom It May Concern
"To whom it may concern" is both old and outdated, and it shows that you did no research in discovering who you will be talking to or who handles new hires.
Take the time to find out who you are writing to. Hiring managers and healthcare recruiters will be more impressed if you call them by name in your letter — everyone loves hearing their name. It makes them feel important.
In addition, it creates a more personal approach that you are writing about your desire to have the job to a singular person, instead of using “to whom it may concern”, which could be read by anybody.
Use psychology to give you leverage of situations like this. It is important to show that you did research, and calling them by name, makes it personal.
If you can't find out who will be receiving your submission, omit the line altogether. It's redundant and wastes space that can be used on an example or your skills or experience to strengthen your application.
4. Don't Write Blanket Cover Letters
Tailor each cover letter for a specific job, so you can highlight specific skills that can fill the need of each job. Using the same cover letter for a retail job and a nursing position, will not help you in the long-run.
Many professionals will use the same cover letter for every single job, and you can separate yourself as a more desired candidate if you tailor your cover letter for each position.
Employers, hiring managers, and healthcare recruiters want to see individuals who put more effort into each cover letter, because it showcases your work ethic and desire to work for that company.
Each position is unique and so should each cover letter. Even though your stories might be the same, you can emphasize different points of them to highlight individual skills.
However, if you need to save time, you can create cover letters for categories of positions.
For example, create one cover letter for nursing and one for physician's assistant, and then change small amounts of information depending on the job you're applying to.
This approach makes your job search much more efficient and saves a lot of time in the long run and will cut down some time if you don’t wish to fill out a cover letter each time for a new position.
5. Don't Use "I" Too Much
In your cover letter, you want to avoid using “I” too often. Using “I” gets redundant, and sounds like you have no other words in your vocabulary.
While your cover letter should be about you, you don't have to keep reiterating that. We already know it's about you, so try and come up with different subjects for your main sentences.
Try making some of the subjects about the prospective company, past companies, past experiences, and accomplishments.
If you keep saying "I" it will make your cover letter dull and uninteresting - something we’ve already covered earlier in our cover letter requirements that you want to avoid.
6. Don't Over Do It
Be clear and concise; say what you need to and wrap it up. Remember that a cover letter is a document that, coupled with your resume, demonstrates your skills and highlights stories that reinforce why you are the perfect fit for the position.
Sell yourself and demonstrate how you can meet the company’s needs. Spice up your writing and engage their attention, and show them you know how to write a cover letter.
Be confident in your writing. You are the best fit, so demonstrate that to your prospective employer.
7. Avoid Spelling and Grammar Mistakes
One thing that you need to make sure you do before submitting your cover letter is to avoid spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. There are plenty of available resources to use that can make checking for errors even simpler.
In addition, you can always ask a friend or coworker to review your cover letter to ensure that there are no mistakes that you should fix.
It’s always a good idea to have someone else review it to determine whether or not you are coming across how you’d like, and that your experience and skills translate well throughout the document.
One of the things that will instantly disqualify you from further consideration is having spelling or grammar mistakes in your cover letter.
When you have spelling or grammar mistakes in your cover letter, it comes across to potential employers and healthcare recruiters that you didn’t bother to spend the extra few seconds making sure there are no errors.
Which begs the question, will you take that same approach in your professional career?
Avoid presenting this image to someone who is going to determine the future you might have with that company, and spend the few seconds to review your cover letter before officially submitting it.
8. Avoid Rambling
You should avoid rambling in your cover letter. A cover letter is similar to a resume in that you want to convey what you can do for a company in a succinct manner.
As mentioned previously, healthcare recruiters and hiring managers review hundreds of cover letters for a vacant position, so you want to ensure that you provide them with all the information they need quickly.
If a cover letter is too long, they won’t even review it after the first paragraph. So if you are saving all the juicy details in your cover letter after the first paragraph and your cover letter is too long, then they won’t even consider reading very far.
If a cover letter is too long, they won’t even review it after the first paragraph. So if you are saving all the juicy details in your cover letter after the first paragraph and your cover letter is too long, then they won’t even consider reading very far.
To avoid this, just make sure that all the detail you are providing is absolutely critical in the cover letter, and it follows the three paragraph outline we have specified above and in Ch. 2: Cover Letter Format, as well.
9. Avoid Too Much Personal Information
One additional thing you need to avoid doing when crafting and writing your cover letter is to avoid using too much personal information.
Healthcare recruiters and hiring managers do not need to know about your personal details unless it specifically relates to your ability to do the position itself.
In many cases, you can avoid mentioning personal information at all, unless it is brought up in the interview. And only certain things can be brought up in an interview due to regulations and employee employer relations.
Typically, those questions only relate to whether or not there are any restrictions that might prevent you from completing the job as assigned.
So to avoid oversharing any information, just list the critical information that you need to provide on your cover letter, and keep the details on your cover letter related to your skills and previous professional experience as it relates to the available position.
10. Don't Rehash Your Resume
One thing you want to ensure that you do is to avoid rehashing all the data on your resume. Your cover letter allows you to expand upon your resume due to the fact that the information isn’t all just bulleted information.
Even though your cover letter allows you to expand upon your resume, you should avoid rehashing it.
When professionals rehash their resume, it begs the question as to why someone should review the resume if you mention everything that is on it.
Your cover letter should be useful for expanding upon how you used those skills or specific examples of accomplishments you listed on your resume.
For additional information, you can say that you would be happy to expand upon the details more in an interview.
Using this useful technique is a great way of once again declaring that you would like to move forward in the candidate application and selection process.
11. Avoid Highlighting Unnecessary Skills For The Job
Similar to avoiding the use of personal information, you also want to avoid highlighting skills that would be unnecessary for the job.
For those professionals who typically use the same cover letter for every application that they submit — this is one of the main problems associated with their cover letters.
Due to the fact that these cover letters are used for a wide array of positions, many people will list skills that can be used in every position, and not skills for individual positions.
When crafting your cover letter, you should ensure that you write it so that each of the listed skills is useful for that specific job.
When you place the skills that you possess on each individual cover letter, you are separating yourself from those candidates who will list skills that don’t relate to the position itself.
Your cover letter should consist of an introduction salutation, three body paragraphs, and your conclusion salutation. For formatting the dates and contact information, check out Ch. 2 Cover Letter Format.
To write a great letter, find out who your audience is and tell them, through examples, why you're the best candidate for the position.
Keep things streamlined, concise, and easy to interpret so that the reader can quickly draw information from it.
Clutter may cause your application to be dismissed. Remember, they have a problem and are looking to solve it. Be the solution and you'll have no problem scoring an interview.