|School of Nursing, Graduate Division
Writing a Cover Letter
Each time you mail your resume, it must be accompanied by a personalized cover letter. This cover letter allows you to focus the reader on your credentials, and gives you a chance to explain why you are interested in a particular position and organization. Your cover letter lets you target the specific aspects of your background which correspond to the specific needs of an employer. The more you know about the organization or person to whom you are writing, the more you can focus on what will genuinely interest the reader. Your cover letter should be written to a specific person; never address your cover letters to "Dear Sir or Madame." If a name is not listed in an ad, call the organization and ask to whom your letter should be addressed.
In addition, along with your resume, your cover letter is the first "meeting" an employer has with you. Thus, it must be perfectly typed in standard business form on high quality paper and contain no spelling or grammatical errors. Purchase extra blank sheets of your resume paper so your resume and cover letters can be printed on matching paper.
CONTENT: Your cover letter should cover four general areas.
Introduction/why you are writing. Always mention the position, the organization, how you learned about it, and your current status. For example, you might write: "I was interested to read in the Philadelphia Inquirer that ABC Hospital is looking for a surgical intensive care unit nurse. I will receive my B.S.N. degree from the University of Pennsylvania in May and am eager to be considered for the position." or "Dr. Jane Jones, told me that ABC Practice will be hiring a pediatric nurse practitioner, and I am writing to express my interest in the position. I will be graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in August with an M.S.N. degree in the Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Program."
If you are sending "blind" resumes - that is, mailing to organizations that have not formally advertised positions - you need to include information on why you are writing and refer to your current status. For example, "I am sending you a copy of my resume in hope that ABC Practice will have a vacancy for a pediatric nurse practitioner. In August, I will complete my Master's degree in Nursing, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Program, at the University of Pennsylvania."
Why you are interested in the position and the organization, or, why you are a "good fit". It is appropriate to say something about why you want a particular job and want to work for the particular employer. For example, if you are interested in a nursing position in a large, university affiliated hospital, you might say something like: "My clinical rotations at Presbyterian Hospital and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania have impressed upon me the value of practicing nursing in a teaching hospital. I am especially interested in becoming involved in ongoing research, and feel that teaching hospitals provide the best opportunities for such work."
If you have enough specific information about the position and the organization to do so, it is a good idea to stress how and why your experience and interest meet the organization's needs, i.e., why this is a "good fit". This paragraph (or section of the previous paragraph) lets the reader know that you've done your homework, and that you are familiar with their organization.
What your experience/education offers. Refer the reader to your resume and highlight the special things in your background that make you the right candidate for the position. You do not need to repeat everything that is already on your resume. Just pick the aspects of your background that will be most interesting to the individual employer, and be direct about emphasizing your particular accomplishments.
If, for example, an advertisement for a psychiatric nurse stresses supervisory ability, you might write: "As my enclosed resume indicates, I have had broad clinical experience as a psychiatric nurse. In addition, during the five years I was on the staff of XYZ Psychiatric Hospital I was promoted from Staff Nurse to Primary Nurse. As primary nurse it was my specific responsibility to train and supervise twelve psychiatric aides, all who have remained on staff and have been promoted to technician positions."
What will happen next. This is your chance to structure what you hope the next steps will be. You can indicate interest in an interview, and prepare the reader for the fact that you may follow up your letter with a phone call to find out the status of your application. Basically you want to maintain as much control as possible. Ending a cover letter with "I look forward to hearing from you," while perfectly appropriate, requires that the employer take the next step. You are better off taking the initiative by calling the employer to schedule an interview, if you feel comfortable doing so.
All employers want and all positions require people with excellent communications skills. Your cover letter demonstrates your writing skills, so write it thoughtfully. Allow your personality to come through, and particularly seem interested and enthusiastic, both about what you have to offer, and what they offer you. However, although this is a formal letter, the style doesn't need to be stiff. You should try to be creative in your cover letter to stimulate an employer's interest without jeopardizing the professional presentation of your qualifications.
A good cover letter will communicate interest, motivation, and self-confidence and hopefully will result in both a close reading of your resume and an interview.