You’re on the cusp of graduation, poised to find your first job as an OT. But before you can put your knowledge and skills to practice, you have to focus on the job hunt itself. And while your first instinct may be to focus all of your energy on your resume, it's important that you don't overlook the importance of your cover letter.
Why Would You Need a Cover Letter for an Entry-Level Occupational Therapy Position?
The general purpose of any cover letter is to help bring your resume to life. This can be particularly helpful for recent grads or entry-level OTs who typically don't have much work experience to add to their resumes. Cover letters give you the chance to put your education and relevant work experience into context, and they allows you to communicate everything you want to say about yourself as a job candidate.
This document will give you the chance to introduce yourself to the hiring manager, highlight your experience, share your employment preferences, and provide a glimpse of your personality — which isn’t as apparent by simply reading your resume. An effective cover letter provides a favorable first impression of you to prospective employers, enticing them to contact you for an interview.
For some people, this could sound like an easy task - for others, it could be daunting. To help you out, we asked for insights from a seasoned OT, Elizabeth DeIuliis, OTD, MOT, OTR/L, CLA, assistant department chairperson and academic fieldwork coordinator in the Department of Occupational Therapy at Duquesne University.
DeIuliis shared her advice on how to properly format a cover letter for an entry-level occupational therapy position, as well as some tips and tricks for grabbing the hiring manager's attention. At the end of the article, you'll also be able to find a sample occupational therapy cover letter.
How Do You Structure an Occupational Therapy Cover Letter?
No matter what industry you're in, cover letters should follow a business letter format. Below, we've provided the particular format that Deluliis suggested:
- Your Contact Information
- Date You’re Sending the Letter
- Contact Information for the Hiring Manager
- A Salutation
- Paragraph #1: Introduction
- Paragraph #2: Why You’re Interested
- Paragraph #3: Why You’re a Good Fit
- Paragraph #4: Thank You & Call To Action
- A Closing
Let's dive in!
Your Contact Information
To make it easy for hiring managers to contact you, include your full name, phone number, and email address at the top of your cover letter, even if you’re also including all of this information on your resume. Monster.com advises that you only need to include your physical mailing address if proximity to the job is a concern. You wouldn’t want to be out of the running solely based on your location, and, in some cases, using your complete mailing address could put you at risk for identity theft. To protect yourself, a good alternative might be to include only your current city and state.
For consistency’s sake, include the same contact information on your cover letter and resume. (For example, don’t list your email address on one document but not on the other.) Sometimes, the cover letter — not the resume — impresses a hiring manager, and if the pages get separated, nobody will be able to contact you for an interview unless your information is also on your cover letter.
The Date You’re Sending the Cover Letter
When you include the date that you applied for the position, it helps hiring managers keep track of when you got in touch with them.
Hiring Manager’s Contact Information
You may wonder if this is a necessary detail to include because the hiring manager will know their own details, but don’t leave out this part of the cover letter. You’ll demonstrate that you’re committed to following the format of a business letter, and it’s respectful to the hiring manager.
Include the person’s full name and title if you can, as well as the name of their department. If you have their email address and/or their phone number, you can include those as well. This ensures that your correspondence reaches the right person, instead of just going to any old human resources representative.
Some job listings only include partial information. They may not include the full name or job title of the hiring manager, and they may only list a phone number instead of an email address. You can do some extra sleuthing to find the missing information, either by scouring a website or making a quick phone call. Your effort should help you make a positive first impression because it will show that you’ve done work to find out information that wasn’t provided to all potential job candidates.
Sometimes, despite all your efforts, it isn’t possible to find a name to address your cover letter to. In those instances, it’s perfectly fine to address your letter to the hiring manager, or if it’s a privately owned facility, use the owner’s name.
Remember, you’re writing a formal cover letter, and even though you’ve learned the hiring manager’s name, you don’t want to be too informal and address her casually by her first name.
It’s best to refer to someone as “Mr.,” “Ms.,” or “Dr.” in your salutation. It’s particularly important to show your respect for someone’s professional title if they’ve earned advanced degrees. It’s a small detail, but it can set you apart from other candidates. You should also say “Dear” instead of something more casual like “To,” “Hey,” or simply listing someone’s name.
Try this salutation:
"Dear Ms. Miller:"
NOTE: Pay attention to the use of a colon here and not a comma. Create a professional tone with the use of a colon after their name.
NOTE: This is too friendly for a cover letter, and there’s a comma instead of a colon.
Or try this salutation:
"Dear Hiring Manager:"
But avoid this:
"To whom this may concern:"
NOTE: This one's too generic and impersonal. It certainly won't make the hiring manager feel like you're speaking directly to them.
Paragraph #1: An Introduction That Explains Why You’re Writing
This is your opportunity to explain to the hiring manager that you’re about to graduate and are seeking a job as an OT, based on your education and experience. If you’re applying for a specific opening from an advertisement, be sure to list the exact job title and any reference number that may have been listed so it’s very clear to the hiring manager which position you’re seeking. If you’re writing because you were referred by someone, the opening paragraph is a good place to mention the connection.
Avoid being too vague about the job for which you’re applying. The hiring manager will probably be reviewing piles of resumes and cover letters, and she won’t want to guess which job you’re interested in.
You can also mention why you’re applying to work at that particular facility as opposed to the hospital across town. A few choice words can demonstrate that you’ve done some research about the facility, which can make you stand out from the pack.
"I’m writing to apply for the Staff Inpatient Occupational Therapist position at XYZ Medical Center (job reference #12345). Next month, I will receive my OTD degree from ABC University. Your facility has a strong reputation for providing quality services to patients, and I believe my education, experience, and commitment to excellence makes me an ideal fit to work at your medical center."
"Next month, I will receive my OTD degree from ABC University, and I would like to gain employment as a staff OT at XYZ Medical Center. If you have any openings soon, please consider me."
Paragraph #2: Why You’re Interested in the Position
Help the hiring manager understand why you think you’d be a good fit for the position. If you have a lot of experience working with a specific type of patient and this opening will allow you to continue working with such patients, share some details about what you’ve done. If you’re enthusiastic about a particular type of work, let the hiring manager know. Sharing some personal details about your passion can make you seem like an authentic job candidate, which may work to your advantage. You can also share something impressive a supervisor has said about you during your fieldwork, if it indicates you’re dedicated to the profession or have a good rapport with patients.
“As a student, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many patients who were recovering from stroke. I’m familiar with many of the physical and mental challenges that such patients face, and I’ve helped many of them progress on their journeys. During fieldwork, my supervisor said I had a knack for connecting with patients because I approached them with a very encouraging attitude.”
“I worked with people who were recovering from stroke during fieldwork, and I enjoyed it a lot more than working with the pediatric patients, so I’d really like to work with your stroke patient-focused facility.”
Paragraph #3: Why You're a Good Fit for the Position
Connect the dots for the hiring manager, letting her know the reasons you’d be a good match for the position. This isn’t the time to be modest; hiring managers expect job candidates to sell themselves in their cover letters. Emphasize your strengths, whether that means your academic accomplishments, your fieldwork experience, or both. (But don’t include your GPA.)
Be confident in the words you choose, and use powerful verbs to describe your experience. Instead of saying you “worked” with patients, say you “demonstrated competency.” This is also a good place to mention personal qualities that would make you a good employee.
"Throughout my fieldwork, I demonstrated competency with neurological populations and assisted patients with a variety of treatments, always striving to take on new responsibilities whenever I could. I’m eager to bring my skill set and an open mind to your medical center. I’m a quick learner, and I pride myself on being detail-oriented and staying on top of my paperwork."
"I had the chance to work with neurological populations during my fieldwork, and I learned many skills that will serve me well as an OT."
Paragraph #4: Thank You & Call To Action
In the closing paragraph of your cover letter, you should sum up the reasons why you think you’re right for the job and thank the hiring manager for looking over your material. You can suggest the hiring manager get in touch with you, but you don’t need to be heavy-handed about it. She’ll reach out if she’s interested. You don’t need to include your contact information here, because it’s at the top of your letter, but there’s no harm in listing your preferred method of communication (either by email or phone) in this paragraph.
“I believe my previous work experience, my desire to remain positive with patients, and my willingness to learn will make me a good addition to your team of OTs. I’d welcome an opportunity to speak with you about the job opportunity and my qualifications. Please feel free to contact me by email or phone, whichever works best for you! Thanks for your consideration.”
“Thank you for considering me for this position, which would be my first job as an OT. I would work hard, and I promise not to let you down. Please call me for an interview. If I don’t hear from you within a week, I will give your office a call.”
End your letter with something simple that sounds professional, like “Sincerely,” “Regards,” or “Respectfully.” Saying “From” isn’t formal enough, and neither is signing your name without a closing.
Final Tips for Writing Your Cover Letter
Proofread your letter before sending it out. Don’t just check for misspellings; make sure you’ve followed the proper format, and keep the letter short enough to comfortably fit on one page. Also consider these ideas:
Tip #1: Your tone is important.
A cover letter is a marketing tool to get a hiring manager to learn a bit about your authentic self. It’s fine to share some details about your personality, but make sure everything you say is a professional representation of yourself with a serious tone. There’s no room for joking around in a cover letter.
Tip #2: Be concise.
There’s no need to repeat what’s on your resume. The hiring manager will look at that document, as well, so she doesn’t want to see identical information in both places. Provide new details that can help her learn something about you that isn’t apparent from your resume.
Tip #3: Consider your email address.
Make sure your email sounds professional. Ideally, it should be something that incorporates some or all of your name. Don’t go for something cutesy, like “CoolOTKid.” You’ll stick out like a sore thumb among the other job candidates who will likely be using their first initials and last names in some combination.
Tip #4: Choose a classic font.
Arial, Courier New, Calibri, Verdana, and Times New Roman are all good choices, because they’re simple and classic. When a font gets too elegant, it distracts from the content of the message.
Tip #5: Your cover letter gives a first impression of you.
By some estimates, nearly half of all resumes and cover letters have some sort of grammatical or spelling error. If you make these kinds of mistakes when you’re supposed to be presenting yourself in the best possible light, the hiring manager won’t have much confidence in your abilities, and it’s likely you won’t score an interview.
Tip #6: Ask a professor or mentor to read it.
Ask a trusted friend, relative, or mentor to help you proofread your cover letter, because sometimes you need a fresh set of eyes to catch mistakes. Everyone could use an editor, and a mentor would be happy to give your cover letter an extra set of eyes. Ask her: “Does this represent me well?” “Would this letter make you want to interview me?” If she feels you can add more personality (or less), ask for suggestions on where and how.