One underutilized tool for conducting a job search is a cover letter. But it’s understandable because many employers don’t even ask for one in job announcements.
As such, lots of job seekers miss an easy opportunity to stand out.
Think about it. You have two equally-qualified candidates. One sends a cover letter and the other doesn’t. Which one is standing out – even if the employer doesn’t ask for one?
But more than that, well-written cover letters help align you with the employer. They represent an opportunity for you to share, in specifics, why you are the best candidate for THEM. Resumes can do that to some measure, when you customize them, but not nearly as well as cover letters.
So here are some tips on creating a great cover letter.
Keep it Short
A cover letter should rarely (if ever) be more than one page. Readers always have an initial visual response to all literary works. They size it up and balance reading against the need or reward for doing so. Since some may not feel a strong need to read it, that means it’s important to make it appear quick or easy to read.
Paragraphs throughout need to be short – one to three sentences. There are lots of studies that back this up, but with varying numbers. New York Times reporters seem to hover in the 36-word zone for paragraphs. That means sentences should be somewhere around 15 words.
Cover letters are not a novel. They are considered business writing and as such need to convey messages quickly and succinctly out of respect for the reader.
Next, use bullet points somewhere in the middle to highlight a set of key qualifications or additional information about you. I would recommend a list of exactly three bullets to accomplish this. There’s a power in the number three that makes the information more memorable.
Bullets breakup the text and give skimmers an easy, more memorable gift. Employers will absorb more of what you include in those bullets than anywhere else. So make that section your most compelling.
No two cover letters you write should be exactly alike. Employers expect that cover letters will be unique to them. That means that you should acknowledge some key qualifications and mention how you meet them. To do that, carefully review the job description or ask the employer what they need.
There are other ways you can customize the cover letter:
- Quote a line from their mission statement that you like
- Acknowledge a piece of equipment, protocol, or system they have that you have experience with
- Mention their name within the body of the cover letter a couple of times
- Talk about how you know a patient or someone who works there
If they seem to indicate two years of experience is critical, be sure to include that in the cover letter. If they mention the need for someone who is exceptional with patient care, then talk about it. Share with they how or why you are exceptional.
And one more thing, don’t despair if you don’t meet one particular qualification. Lots of employers are willing to overlook some qualifications if you are excellent in other ways. Never sell yourself short, always apply if it looks like a great job.
Make it Error-Free
Just like your resume, proof-read your cover letters. Create a standard template for your cover letters so that you can focus mainly on proofing the customizations.
You can also use a trusted friend, utilize checker tools like Grammerly, or read the text backward to ensure you have caught everything. Remember, no one tool or friend is perfect so it’s important to rely on a number of techniques each time.
Create a Consistent Design
Create a subtle design scheme that matches your resume – sorta like your own personalized stationary. Use the same color(s), font, and information you might see at the top of the resume. In short, a cover letter that looks like it belongs with the resume, as companion piece, will impress.
Cover Letter Anatomy
Here’s one way you can create an anatomy for your cover letter.
- Paragraph 1 – Acknowledge the Job: Let the employer know in the first paragraph where you heard about the job and that you are applying for it.
- Paragraph 2 – Acknowledge technical qualifications: If they want someone with two years clinical experience and experience working with Dentrix, acknowledge them early on.
- Paragraph 3 – Acknowledge soft qualifications: They may also want a certain personality type or an employee with specific attributes. These include things like, work ethic, team player, dependable, and so on. Use this third paragraph to highlight how you meet these qualifiers.
- Paragraph 4 – Next, give them a bonus. Describe how you are great in an area they didn’t ask for but that you feel makes you a strong candidate. This could include relationships with the patients that go there, or perhaps some leadership experience you have. This is the place to really dig in and explain what’s different or extra-special about you.
- Paragraph 5 – Ask for an interview: Always finish your cover letter with a short, yet clear statement requesting an interview. Here’s one way to do that:
“I would be pleased to discuss how I am a great fit for your office at a time that is convenient for you. Please call me at 123-456-7890.”
Add your name and signature, and don’t forget to add your hard-earned credential “RDH” after your name.
If you have several things that are different about you but are out of space in paragraph 4, add a PS at the end. Studies show that almost everyone reads the PS, in fact some will go straight to it because they are curious. They also tend to be short so make sure it’s very short – one sentence in that 15-word or less range.
Doug Perry is an expert resume writer and job search coach. He and his wife, Tracie, who is a dental hygienist, created GetHiredRDH in response to the challenging dental hygiene job market and have helped thousands of dental hygienists through tips and individual services. If you need individual, click here to contact Doug.