We get it: selling yourself in a cover letter is a universally dreaded endeavor. It can be tempting to hope your resume speaks for itself, but a great cover letter can be the difference between nabbing an interview or falling into the black hole of job applicants.
This is especially true for new dental graduates, who are competing against professionals with years of experience. According to a recent survey from ResumeLab, however, 83% of hiring managers say that an impressive cover letter is enough to qualify for an interview, even when a resume doesn’t catch their eye. The key to pulling it off? Breaking down the writing process into digestible bits, rather than trying to tackle the entire task at once.
To help you out, we consulted with three dental and HR experts, who generously shared their expertise on how new dentists can stand out from the pack:
- Matthew Warzel, CPRW, CIR, president of resume writing firm MJW Careers, LLC
- Greg Asatrian, DDS, MS, board-certified orthodontist and content creator for the Braces Explained Youtube channel
- Shahrooz Yazdani, DDS, founder of Yazdani Family Dentistry in Ontario, Canada
We then synthesized their advice into an easy-to-follow format that you can find below. With a solid foundation to build upon, your shiny new cover letter will get your job search off the ground in no time!
What Do You Include in a Dentist Cover Letter? An Overview
While there’s room for letting your personality shine through in the content of your cover letter, it’s best to do so within the following framework. Use this structure to make sure you’ve covered the essentials:
- Your Contact Information
- Today’s Date
- The Hiring Manager’s Contact Information
- Paragraph #1: Explaining Why You’re Writing
- Paragraph #2: Explaining Why You’re Interested in the Position
- Paragraph #3: Explaining Why You're a Good Fit for the Position
- Thanks & Call to Action
- A Closing
It might sound obvious, but your mission is to reduce any effort on the hiring manager’s part to get in touch with you. That’s why your contact information needs to be front and center and easily accessible, especially in the event that your resume and cover letter get separated.
Include your full name, phone number, and email address at the top of the document. To help the hiring manager learn even more about your accomplishments, you can also hyperlink to your LinkedIn profile. (Yes, dentists use Linkedin!) If you do choose to include your profile, just double-check that your bio and experience are polished and up-to-date before you hit “Send.”
Now’s also a good time to make sure that your email address sounds professional. It’s best to keep it simple and straightforward -- opt to use your first and last names (if available), and steer clear of using any personal nicknames or excessive numbers. For example, firstname.lastname@example.org is preferable to email@example.com.
Including the date at the top of your cover letter helps both you and busy hiring managers keep track of when you applied for the position. This can also come in handy when you’re trying to determine the appropriate time to follow up. (And you should always follow up!)
The Hiring Manager’s Contact Information
Do you know what the sweetest sound is to most people’s ears? You guessed it: the sound of their own name! Just as your ears perk up when you get a personalized response, so too will those of the human reader (i.e., the hiring manager) on the other end when they receive a letter addressed specifically to them. Not only does this show a sign of respect to the hiring manager, but it also shows that you did your homework on them and the company you’re hoping to work for, which never hurts.
Don’t underestimate how important this step is; it seems small, but it’s the kind of little details that prospective employers are looking for. So, make sure you take the time to find out who the hiring manager is. Typically, the job description will indicate who the role would report to. Then, either go to the company’s website or use tools like LinkedIn to identify who that person is. Ideally, you’d be able to include the hiring manager’s name, title, email address, and/or phone number. On a practical note, including the hiring manager’s information can also help get your cover letter into the right hands if it somehow lands in the wrong place.
If you try your darndest and can’t find the hiring manager’s work email address and/or phone number, just use those of the company you’re applying to. Same goes for if you can’t identify who the hiring manager is: when in doubt, just provide the name of the company, the address, and the contact information they provide on their website.
So, you’ve done your sleuthing and (hopefully) know the hiring manager’s name. Great work! Now you’re ready to write the salutation.
Feel free to start off your salutation with “Dear X” or “To X,” followed by a colon. (See the example below.) Both “dear” and “to” are safe and respectful, and using a colon (rather than a comma) helps set more of a professional tone.
As a courtesy, be sure to address the hiring manager by their proper title: “Dr.,” “Mr.,” or “Ms.,” followed by their last name. Again, this is your chance to make a great first impression, so take the time to get this right. If, after all your research, it’s still unclear whether you should address the hiring manager with a certain title, your default can be “Mr.” or “Ms.” Regardless, you should NEVER address the recipient by their first name: that’s a touch too casual for a cover letter.
By the same token, you’ll also want to avoid sounding overly stiff, so try to avoid any generic salutations like “To Whom It May Concern.” If you’re struggling to nail down a specific name to address it to, opt for “To the Hiring Manager” instead.
Try formatting it like this:
“Dear Mr. Peters:”
“To Dr. Peters:”
But avoid this:
“Hi” conveys a casual familiarity not quite suited for a cover letter.
Paragraph #1: An Introduction Explaining Why You’re Writing*
By now, you’re likely aware of the importance of eliminating any guesswork on the part of the hiring manager. There’s a good chance they’re juggling candidates for multiple job openings, so nix any uncertainty by clearly stating the exact job title that you’re applying for within your first paragraph.
“If the hiring manager is wrinkling their forehead, you've already lost the initial battle,” Warzel says. “You have limited space to make your case, so make it impossible to be misunderstood.”
Try formatting it like this:
“I hope this letter finds you well. I am writing in enthusiastic interest regarding the open dentist position at Healthy Smiles.”
Or like this:
“I believe my background in family care and orthodontics would be an asset to the associate dentist position at Healthy Smiles.”
But avoid this:
“I am over the moon about this opportunity!”
This leaves room for ambiguity about what opportunity you’re referring to. Plus, while you want to express enthusiasm, “over the moon” is, well, overkill and not appropriate in this context.
Paragraph #2: Why You’re Interested in the Position
Your “why” is what truly differentiates your cover letter from your resume. It’s your golden opportunity to put your passion for the position on full display and stand out from the pack. (We have an inkling that this is what sways those 83% of hiring managers we mentioned in the first paragraph!) According to Yazdani, if you can properly highlight why the job means more to you than the next candidate, you’ll end up putting yourself in a much greater position to score an interview.
“If you imply that your application is merely to get a job in your field, your chances will diminish significantly,” he adds. “Make sure you're sending the message that you are enthusiastic about the opportunity to work specifically with this team and population of patients, not simply looking for work.”
Try formatting it like this:
“As a first-generation American citizen, the opportunity to use my bilingual skills in a dental capacity means the world to me. From a young age, it was my responsibility to translate my treatment plans to my parents, so I was excited to learn of the bilingual dentist opening at Healthy Smiles.”
Make sure your “why” is relevant to the employer’s needs. In this instance, their “need” is to have a bilingual dentist on their staff.
“I am eager to get my first job out of dental school, and hope that this position works out.”
The spotlight should be on how you’ll benefit the team, not how the job will play to your individual benefit. Craft each sentence through the lens of a true team player.
Paragraph #3: Why Your Education & Experience Should Appeal to Employers
According to Asatrian, a lot of new dentists speak in generic terms and forget to share how they would fit in with a particular company. Definitely emphasize the specific training or experience you have that’s relevant to the practice, or the competency you have serving the population that they cater to (e.g., children, seniors, etc.).
Great cover letters are uber-personalized — again, it’s all about making the hiring manager’s job easier, so one simple way to connect the dots for them is to pull words directly from the job description. For instance, if the job posting mentions “performing intraoral scans on patients” as a qualification, then it’s wise to highlight your competency with that skill in your cover letter. Always explain how your past experience will translate to the position you’re applying for.
Try formatting it like this:
“As a dental intern, I gained two years of experience working with children and adolescents. This opportunity prepared me to perform X-rays, oral hygiene exams, and various orthodontics duties with confidence. I’m also well-versed in assessing emergency situations and taking quick action according to protocol. Beyond these technical skills, I learned to connect with young patients and help them feel safe and cared for, while also instilling comfort and confidence in their parents through clear, friendly lines of communication. I’m dedicated to serving the unique needs of this young population, and would be honored to set them up for a lifetime of great oral hygiene as part of the Healthy Smiles team.”
Not like this:
“I gained lots of new skills during my time as a dental intern, and am happy to do whatever it takes to be successful at Healthy Smiles. I’m prepared to work with patients of all ages.”
The job description will list exactly what’s needed to be successful on the job, so focus on specifically addressing those skills.
Paragraph #4: Thanks for Consideration & Call to Action
Your final sentence should be a powerful reinforcement of why you’re the one, but there’s no need to regurgitate the whole letter — keep it short and sweet. According to Asatrian, it’s important to emphasize that you want to add value to and grow with their practice.
“Make it clear that you want to be part of their team, not just their employee or an independent contractor who shows up and goes home,” he says. “You’re there to be an asset to the practice.”
And, of course, including a sincere “thank you” is a courtesy that displays your respect for the hiring manager’s time.
Try formatting it like this:
“Based on my [clinical experience, leadership experience, passion for this community, etc.], I believe I’d be a great fit for your team and contribute to an exceptional environment of care. It would be wonderful to discuss further how I could be an asset to Healthy Smiles in an interview. Thanks so much for your time and consideration.”
“If you’re looking for someone who can provide high-quality dentistry to young patients with care and integrity, I’m ready to hit the ground running. I look forward to speaking further to discuss how my qualifications can provide value to the Healthy Smiles team and patients. Thanks so much!”
“When can I call you to discuss the job? Looking forward to hearing from you with a time and date. I’ll be sure to follow up with you tomorrow if I don’t hear back.”
You want to convey enthusiasm, but not in an overly aggressive manner. Don’t impose your own timeline onto the hiring manager, or assume that you’ve passed the first step.
And avoid this:
“Thanks for your consideration! Your practice is well-known for being the area’s best, and it would be great for me to get my foot in the door.”
Center your focus on enhancing the practice as a team player, rather than your own career.
There are a number of options for professional sign-offs to close your letter with. “Sincerely,” “Best,” “Warm regards,” and “Respectfully” are all great options. Choose one that feels true to you so you can end your letter on a good note.
5 Final Tips for Writing a Great Dentist Cover Letter
Looking for more inspiration on grabbing the hiring manager’s attention? Consider these five expert tips to add some extra oomph to your cover letter.
Tip #1: Personalization is everything.
Once you’ve written a solid cover letter, you may be tempted to do a mass-send to your list of potential employers. While it’s fine to work from the same general template, it’s imperative that you customize each letter. This shows each hiring manager that you’ve done your homework on the job opportunity and are a thoughtful, committed candidate.
Tip #2: Don’t apologize for missing experience.
This is particularly true if you’re a new grad and are feeling insecure about your lack of experience. However, Asatrian assures that hiring managers realize that you aren’t necessarily going to be the fastest or most adept dentist right off the bat. Due to your age and experience level, that’s a given. Instead of harping on your understandably limited experience, play up your enthusiasm to learn, grow, and be part of the team. Remember: being relatively “green” has certain advantages, such as not having any “bad habits” that you’ll have to unlearn. And since you were in school more recently than a seasoned colleague, it could also mean that you have more familiarity with and proficiency in the latest dental technology. So have confidence in yourself!
Tip #3: Tell the truth.
If you undersell yourself, you likely won’t get a job. At the same time, Asatrian cautions against overselling yourself to an exaggerated degree. “If you fudge your experience...you may end up in over your head, or burnt out,” he shares. “Plus, hiring managers can sniff out insincerity. Emphasize your competencies to a degree that feels authentic.”
Tip #4: Cut weak verbs and filler words.
You’ll want to keep your cover letter contained to one page, so there’s no room for fluff or wishy-washy verbs that dilute the potency of what you’re saying. As you proofread (and we highly recommend enlisting a second set of eyes here), delete passive verbs and substitute them with strong action verbs. If you get stuck, take a look at The Muse’s list of 185 action verbs for inspiration.
Tip #5: Always operate from the hiring manager’s point of view.
When you’re writing or editing your cover letter, always put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes.
“Consider the hiring manager's point of view,” advises Warzel. “He or she has to be pulled aside from their day-to-day at the end of a busy day to review resumes and fill an open requisition....which is either costing them money, or not making them money by leaving it vacant. They want to find a good fit, and you can be that solution. It’s up to you to connect the dots and clearly communicate your value. Your cover letter is an amazing opportunity to eliminate any barriers that would give them hesitation.”
Image courtesy of iStock.com/Evgeniia Medvedeva