When you’re seeking your first job as a nurse, it’s important to spend time crafting an ideal cover letter. But sitting in front of a blank page can be overwhelming. Resumes can be dry and packed with information, but a properly written cover letter can make you stand out from the pack, grabbing the interest of hiring managers everywhere. They highlight your best skills, communicate your preferences for employment opportunities, and give hints at your personality. It’s best to submit a unique cover letter, along with a resume, each time you apply for a job. The formula laid out below can make them easier to write.
We spoke with three hiring managers to find out what you should include or leave out of your cover letters to get a positive response. The following professionals offer their expertise:
- Sheena Ferguson, MSN, RN, chief nursing officer of the University of New Mexico Hospitals
- Denise Occhiuzzo, Ed.D., MS, RN, BC, administrator of Nursing Professional Services and magnet program director at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey
- Kimberly Snow, BSBA, talent acquisition specialist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center
And don’t forget to check out our article on how to create a nursing student resume, too!
What Do You Include in a Nursing Student Cover Letter?
Effective cover letters follow this structure:
- Your Contact Information
- Today's Date
- The Hiring Manager’s Contact Information
- A Salutation
- Paragraph #1: An Introduction
- Paragraph #2: Why You’re Interested
- Paragraph #3: Why You're a Good Fit
- Paragraph #4: Thanks & Call To Action
- A Closing
First impressions stick, and hiring managers pay attention to detail. They’ll notice if you don’t include the proper information or take the right tone in your cover letter. Nurses have to write down effective descriptions of what they observe in patients, so your cover letter should convey that you can present your thoughts clearly and concisely in writing.
When you’re composing your letter, consider the best ways to approach each section.
Your Contact Information
If you include your mailing address, phone number, and email address at the top of your cover letter, it makes it easier for hiring managers to get in touch with you. Some people only list their contact information on their resume, which can make it harder for hiring managers to contact them if the cover letter is printed and separated from the resume.
For example, you could try formatting it like this:
Ideally, this date would be the day that you send the cover letter. It helps hiring managers keep track of the date you applied for the position. It may seem like a small thing, but it's best practice to write out the full month name, rather than abbreviating it.
It should look something like this:
The Hiring Manager's Contact Information
It may seem formal and old-fashioned, but when you include your hiring manager’s information, it shows you’re committed to following protocol. Include the person’s name, title, and mailing or email address. Don’t know the name of the hiring manager? You may help yourself stand out if you take a few minutes to look at an organization’s website to figure out which person is likely to review your resume, but if all else fails, address your letter to the “Hiring Manager.”
Greet the hiring manager in a respectful manner, addressing him or her as “Mr.,” “Ms.” or “Dr.,” rather than by first name. This is important if the hiring manager is a doctor or has credentialing, because it shows you recognize that they’ve worked hard to achieve their professional titles.
Or try this:
But avoid this:
And DEFINITELY avoid this:
Paragraph #1: An Introduction
The opening words of your cover letter will provide a first impression to hiring managers, and should explain why you're contacting them. Explain that you’ll be graduating soon and are seeking a position that will be a good fit for you, based on your education and experience. Be as specific as you can when applying for positions; hiring managers dislike it when candidates are too vague. If you’re eager to work with pediatric or geriatric patients, saying so can help you get noticed.
Don’t say in your cover letter that you’re interested in any job that’s available. You may think it makes you sound like an eager applicant, but hiring managers like to see someone who has some focus. Instead, highlight one position and say you’d like to be considered for it because you believe your experience and qualifications will make you a good match. Then, if you’d like, say you would be glad to be considered for any additional positions. You’ll seem focused and eager at the same time.
Paragraph #2: Why You’re Interested
Here, highlight why you’re well-matched for the position that you’re applying for. Give specifics that make you stand out. Include these types of things:
- Specific areas of focus: “I did my capstone project in pediatrics.”
- Feedback from superiors that demonstrates your qualifications for the position: “My clinical faculty noticed that I have a particular affinity for difficult situations…’”
This can also be a great place to write about your passion for the position.
Paragraph #3: Why You Are a Good Fit
What can you bring to the position that’s unique or sought after? Connect why your work experience, values, or personal characteristics makes you the best fit — and why you should be called for an interview.
Paragraph #4: Thanks & Call To Action
Be sure to thank the hiring manager for reading your letter, and summarize the reasons why he or she should contact you for an interview. You want to be enthusiastic and give your qualifications one last push. No need for contact info here, if you have it at the top.
A simple closing like “Sincerely” or “Warm regards” is a safe, formal way to end your cover letter.
Final Tips for Writing Your Cover Letter
Tip #1: Check your tone.
Since you're applying for a professional position, it's crucial that you strike a professional tone in your cover letter. This doesn't mean that you need to be overly formal - instead, you should aim to sound conversational, yet respectful and businesslike. Some easy things you can do are to make sure you avoid using contractions (e.g., "can't," "I'll")
Tip #2: Be aware of the length.
Before submitting your resume and cover letter, make sure that both documents are only one page long. If either document is longer than that, go back through and either cut information that you don't need or make your language more concise. Chances are very good that if a hiring manager sees a two-page resume or cover letter in their inbox -- particularly from a (soon-to-be) recent graduate -- they'll put it in the "No" pile and move on to the next candidate.
Tip #3: Use a spell-check tool.
Mistakes could cost you an interview. Maybe you were rushing to submit your application and didn’t double-check what you wrote. Hiring managers may assume that your innocent spelling or grammar mistake means you don’t have a firm command of the written word. In the healthcare field, attention to detail is extremely important.
Tip #4: Choose simple fonts.
Choosing an easy-to-read font like Garamond, Calibri, Times New Roman, or Helvetica will make sure your experience and qualifications will stand out. An unusual font can be distracting. And if you’re not sending electronically, make sure to print your cover letter on white or ecru resume paper. Pink or green paper might fit your personality better, but they’re hard to read and don’t c ome across as professional.
Tip #5: Read it aloud.
Once you’ve composed your entire letter, read it out loud to yourself to ensure that it says what you want it to say.
Tip #6: Get a fresh set of eyes.
Being your own editor tends to cause problems. You’ll read things the way you want them to read, rather than how they might come across to someone else. Consider letting trusted friends or relatives review your cover letter and resume for you. You might be surprised at what they feel is unclear.
Sample Nursing Student Cover Letter (Downloadable Template)
Once you put all of these pieces together, your completed cover letter should look something like the sample below. Feel free to click on the image to see a larger PDF version of the document. If you like the format of our sample entry-level physical therapy resume, you can even download the Microsoft Word template we used and fill in the blanks with your information.