6 Tips for Writing Effective Cover Letters

By Donna Cardillo, RN, MA

Having a well-written resume can go a long way toward getting you that job interview, but that’s only half the story. You also need a compelling cover letter. (See Resume Writing Do’s and Don’ts.)

Always use a cover letter when sending a resume. If you’re faxing a resume, fax a cover letter, too. Your cover letter is your opportunity to provide a short narrative about yourself and let a bit of your personality come through. Here are six ways to make the best impression with your letter.

1. Your cover letter must be word processed, not hand written. It should be printed on the same stationery as your resume for the most professional presentation. Be sure to include a heading on your stationery that includes your name and address centered at the top of the page.

2. Use a traditional business letter format that starts with the recipient’s name and title, facility name, and address. If you don’t have a specific person’s name, address the letter to “Human Resources Department” or something similar. Don’t forget to include the date.

3. Use a formal salutation such as “Dear Mr. Rogers” or “Dear Ms. Reynolds.” Ms. is the universal form of address for a woman. If you don’t have a person’s name and are replying to an ad that simply says “Send to Human Resources Department,” address the letter with “Dear Human Resources Professional” or “Dear Nurse Recruiter” as appropriate. Some prefer to use “Dear Sir/Madam.” Be sure to use both genders so as not to offend anyone; never use “To whom it may concern.”

4. Your opening paragraph should immediately state what position you’re applying for or are interested in. If you’re responding to a classified ad, you should also state the name and date of the publication in which the ad appeared. If you’re writing because of a referral, state what you’re interested in and who referred you. For example: “Karen Allen in accounting suggested I contact you about opportunities in the occupational health department” or “I’m applying for the utilization review coordinator position advertised in the Sunday Star Ledger on January 16, 2000.”

Say something complimentary about the company, its product or service, or the person you’re writing to, if you can. For example: “Health East has an excellent reputation in the community and I would like to be a part of your team.”

5. The second paragraph should briefly state what skills and experience you would bring to the position. This is where you customize. In other words, rather than repeat what’s in your resume, highlight the specific experience pertinent to this job. You also might mention some additional experiences or special classes you attended that are pertinent to the job but not mentioned in your resume. Some examples would be staff development sessions attended or volunteer work. Remember to be brief.

6. End the letter on an upbeat note, such as “I look forward to hearing from you so we can discuss our mutual interests.” Add your phone number and the best time to reach you. End the letter with “Sincerely” or a similar closing. Type your name several lines down, and then sign the cover letter.

More Tips

Use an assertive, confident tone throughout. Rather than say “I hope you’ll find my experience to be appropriate” say something such as, “I’m confident that my experience and personality will allow me to contribute significantly to your department.”

Don’t use stilted language such as “Enclosed please find my resume for your review.” Rather, write the way you speak: “I’m enthusiastically applying for a position as an occupational health nurse.”

A persuasive cover letter that enhances and supports your resume can help you get your foot in the door for that all-important interview. The two can be a powerful pair.

Reprinted with permission from Nurses.com (www.nurses.com).
Copyright by Verticalnet, Inc., Horsham, PA., 215-315-3247.
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