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Writing a cover letter
Tomorrow I will write a blog about Resumes, also known as “C.V.s” – Curriculum Vitae. This is a mystery for many new nurses. And I might as well get on the Social Networking bandwagon as well…. social networking is no longer just an up-and-coming technology, it is a main way for your employer to learn about you. All these things go together, and some of the tips below will help you to develop a coordinated strategy as to presenting yourself to the world.
For New Nurses, entering the workforce.
Among other things, I teach the senior-level management and leadership class every now and again when the school needs more than one section, and in that role I get to read and give feedback on cover letters and resumes for soon-to-enter-the-workforce nursing students. This is only one part of the overall process to find a nursing job, but people do need help constructing this. What gets put into the cover letter, exactly? How is the cover letter used? Who reads it? These are the simple questions, and there are also some more sophisticated ways to look at this – how do you frame an experience you have had? What if you don’t have much experience?
Here, in no particular order, are my top tips on writing a cover letter.
Keep it to just one page long, and hold it at arm’s length to check the formatting. If the content is placed haphazardly on the page, you can reformat it so it looks nice. I do think the presentation counts, and it gives the reader a subtle assessment of whether you are computer-savvy, whether you pay attention to detail, or not. You should be able to state your case in just a few sentences, and leave space along the margins in case somebody wishes to comment on something.
Spelling and grammar.
Run a spell check. This seems basic, but people still don’t do it. ask a friend to read it and look for errors, as well.
use the name of the job you want
Name names – and name jobs. One thing to remember is that an H.R. office will be handling ten pieces of paper per job applicant (the app, the CV/resume, 3 references, background checks, etc) and they will do this for multiple jobs. do the math. If there are ten jobs posted, with three or four applicants per job, the H.R. Office will be swimming in paper. They spend their day organizing paper, and you can help them by clearly stating which job you are applying for.Tip: if you are applying online, assign a file name that includes your own name, the date and the agency. If the H.R. department is computerized, it will help them find the file and send it along.
Research the organization. Hot and Cold
Maybe you already know the place to which you are sending your resume, in which case it’s a “hot contact.” In that case, if you have spoken to a specific person within the organization, or made any kind of personal contact, be sure to mention that person by name, or to address the cover letter to that individual. if you are applying to a place where you did clinical practice, be specific about the dates, locations and contact persons who might remember you.
But maybe not, in which case it’s a “cold contact.” Google the organization to which you are applying, if it is a cold contact. Try to point out ways you can help them. For example, a recent student in Honolulu wanted to work at UCLA Medical Center, and was a very strong candidate because she was fluently bilingual in English and Korean. UCLA serves L.A.s’ Korean community, and the student knew this. But the student originally failed to highlight her language skill. She moved it to the first paragraph and also described it more thoroughly on the C.V. itself. She got the job. She probably would have any way, but – this guaranteed that the language skill was front and center.
Don’t assume that the reader knows what you are talking about when you write: “server” for example. Maybe they think it’s just a waitressing job; but when you say “server for dinnertime shift at two-hundred seat restaurant with eight tables including beverage service and high customer turnover, received Employee Award for customer service, worked 28 hours per week to pay for school expenses while attending fulltime” then the reader gets a different impression.
Or for a prior health care position, one recent student put down “billing clerk.” After a few questions, it was easy to re-frame it so that it read “billing clerk responsible for computer program that covered twelve million dollar revenue stream and generated monthly reports of hospital financial data, worked with CFO to develop monitoring systems” – that is more of an eye-opener. Or a student who was a veteran and put down “U.S.S. Buffalo engine room” – this was re-framed to say, “the mostly highly trained category of job descriptions in the Navy” or some such. When i was proofing that one, I did a web search on the USS Buffalo, but an H.R. person is unlikely to use the web the same way.
Think of generalizable skills.
A generalizable skill is one which can predict success in a variety of jobs. As above, the entry on being a server allows you to talk about how you can multitask, use the computer order-entry system of a restaurant, and deliver customer service as an incentive to getting better tips. One recent student worked 28 hours per week throughout nursing school, and was able to reframe this to highlight her dedication and perseverance to overcome odds through hard work.
Please feel free to comment, and to share this with other new graduates.
I will focus a bit more on the CV, as well as the interview process, in future blogs. I wrote a blog lasty summer about my own CV…. you may find that one amusing. The rules are different when you have twenty or thirty years of experience. You have to start somewhere.
In the meantime, read my book about nursing in a Low Income Country, and feel free to visit the FaceBook fan page. It own’t help you get a nursing job, but it will remind you of the powerful value that nurses add to society and to life.