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.
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.
All rights reserved.
How to Address a Cover Letter
Addressing a cover letter can be tricky if you are responding to a job listing and either don’t have a contact person’s name or don't know the hiring manager's gender.
First of all, take the time to try and find out the name and gender of the contact person. Some employers will think poorly of an applicant who does not take the time to find out the hiring manager’s name.
However, if you do some research and are still not sure to whom you are addressing your letter, it's better to be safe and use a generic greeting or none at all.
It's acceptable to start a letter without a greeting.
Read below for advice on how to address a cover letter, and example salutations.
Options for Addressing a Cover Letter
When you're not sure to whom to address your cover letters, you have a few options.
The first is to find out the name of the person you are contacting. If the name is not included on the job listing, you might look up the title of the employer or hiring manager on the company website. If there is a contact number, you might also call and ask an administrative assistant for the name of the hiring manager.
If you cannot discover the name of the contact person at the company, you can either leave off the salutation from your cover letter and start with the first paragraph of your letter, or use a general salutation.
Tips for Using a General Salutation
There a variety of general cover letter salutations you can use to address your letter.
These general cover letter salutations do not require you to know the name of the hiring manager.
In a survey of more than 2,000 companies, Saddleback College found that employers preferred the following greetings:
- Dear Hiring Manager (40%)
- To Whom It May Concern (27%)
- Dear Sir/Madam (17%)
- Dear Human Resources Director (6%)
How to Address a Cover Letter for a Non Gender-Specific Name
If you do have a name but aren't sure of the person's gender, one option is to include both the first name and the last name in your salutation, without any sort of title that reveals gender:
- Dear Sydney Doe
- Dear Taylor Smith
With these types of gender-ambiguous names, LinkedIn can be a helpful resource. Since many people include a photo with their profile, a simple search of the person's name and company within LinkedIn could potentially turn up the contact's photograph.
Again, you can also check the company website or call the company’s administrative assistant to get more information as well.
What Title to Use
Even if you know the name and gender of the person to whom you are writing, think carefully about what title you will use in your salutation. For example, if the person is a doctor or holds a Ph.D., you might want to address your letter to “Dr. Lastname” rather than “Ms. Lastname” or “Mr. Lastname.” Other titles might be “Prof.,” “Rev.,” or “Sgt.,” among others.
Also, when you address a letter to a female employer, use the title “Ms.” unless you know for certain that she prefers another title (such as Miss or Mrs.).
“Ms.” is a general title that does not denote marital status, so it works for any female employer.
How to Format a Salutation
Once you have chosen a salutation, follow it with a colon or comma, a space, and then start the first paragraph of your letter. For example:
Dear Hiring Manager:
First paragraph of letter.
Spell Check Names
Finally, before sending your cover letter, make absolutely sure that you have spelled the hiring manager’s name correctly. That is the kind of small error that can cost you a job interview.
Cover Letter Examples
Here are examples of cover letters addressed to a hiring manager, cover letters with a contact person, and more samples to review.
How to Write a Cover Letter
This guide to writing cover letters has information on what to include in your cover letter, how to write a cover letter, cover letter format, targeted cover letters, and cover letter samples.