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Tips for Writing a Good Cover Letter

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I was recently talking with someone who was starting their job search, and the first thing they complained about was the cover letter. I could empathize since this is my least favorite part of applying for jobs.

What do you say in the letter? How do you structure it? Is it okay to simply use the same cover letter from one job to the next?

Over at the Adventures in Medicine site, Dr. Goodhook fielded a question about this very matter. The writer, signed “Anxious in Asheville,” asked, “A cover letter just seems like a way to restate my CV, and I’m having a hard time seeing the point. Can’t an employer determine that I’m a good fit just by looking at my CV?”

In response, Dr. Goodhook compared the cover letter “to the bizarre, newfangled world of online dating” and asserted that “[s]ending a potential employer your CV without a well-written cover letter is akin to sending a potential romantic companion your photo without a message. While this approach may work for some, I think we can all agree it is in bad taste.”

He urges physicians to look at the cover letter not as a regurgitation of your CV but rather as a chance to talk directly to an employer.

Here’s the key, he writes: “Ask yourself what you would say to your potential employer if you only had a minute of their time.”

And it’s not as if you’re writing a novella. The cover letter shouldn’t even take up an entire page, Dr. Goodhook continues, but only 75 percent of it.

There are also two things you want to convey in this letter: 1. Key accomplishments and 2. any “pertinent information” that isn’t on your CV.

As for whether you should send the same letter to each employer, Dr. Goodhook asks if you “would send the same love letter to three different people?”

Of course, (most of) you wouldn’t. Likewise, the cover letter “needs to be personalized to each and every employer. At minimum, this means changing out the employer’s name and contact information. You should also edit your letter to reflect specific details of the position and your ties to the area.”

Meaning, a template is fine, but you need to adjust the information, and above all, thoroughly proofread it to make sure you aren’t getting your organizations crossed.

As physicians and advanced practitioners who are looking for jobs, what information do you seek to convey in a cover letter?

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