Writing an exceptional cover letter to accompany your resume is how you put the “you” in your nursing application. Your cover letter is where you introduce the person behind the resume and connect yourself to the job you’re hoping to get. It’s an opportunity to really stand out from other qualified candidates, as it allows you to demonstrate genuine interest in the position and organization to which you’re applying.
A standout cover letter shows that you’re not only qualified, but that you care.
You also need a reference sheet, which lists people willing to speak to your qualifications and character. Your references are your “closers,” and will typically be the last step in securing that coveted placement. Whether you’re looking to write an entry-level nurse cover letter or you’re an experienced nurse switching jobs, you want your cover letter and your reference sheet to speak to the specific education and skills healthcare organizations are seeking.
Below, we’ve detailed and explained what to do for both, as well as provided DOs and DON’Ts, etiquette guidelines, and tips to help your application make an impact. Let’s start with the cover letter:
PART I: The Cover Letter
What should a nurse cover letter include? The all-important cover letter is where you get to tell your story. Are you trying to make a career change? Is this your first job? Take this opportunity to define your personal brand. If you’re trying to change jobs, explain why you’re leaving your employer. If you’re looking for your first position, talk about your career goals.
Your nurse cover letter should be three or four paragraphs in length, with a professional heading and signature. Follow the outline below for reference:
- Professional To/From Addresses
- Three to Four Paragraphs
Paragraph 1: Introduction
The opening paragraph of your cover letter is where you make your first impression. Take extra care with your introduction. If you don’t catch a recruiter’s interest in your opening sentences, they may not read further.
State your interest in the position and the organization (reference both by name as they appear in the job description) and introduce yourself. You’ll want to include your educational status and current job title, if applicable. If someone connected to the organization referred you to the job, be sure to include this in your first paragraph as well.
Using a few words that demonstrate a command of language will help you shine, so once you’ve written this paragraph for content, go back and edit for style.
Paragraph 2: Education and Experience
This paragraph is all about you, and it’s where you sell yourself. This is where you answer the question: “Why should we hire you?”
Here you want to highlight your education, experience, and qualifications, and be specific. Be sure everything you choose to include here is relevant to the position to which you’re applying. Start with your experience and then expound on your skills and knowledge to demonstrate your overall value as a candidate.
Any volunteer experience you have in a related field is great to include, as are any accolades you’ve received that demonstrate achievement in nursing or another area relevant to the position you’re pursuing.
Paragraph 3: Show That You Did Your Homework
The third paragraph of your cover letter is all about them. Express your interest in the company and what attracts you to their organization. Again, specifics here will demonstrate that you have familiarized yourself with the company and its culture. Offer reasons why this company inspires and motivates you, why you would be a good fit, and how hope to grow there.
If you’re already familiar with the hiring company, perhaps through a previous rotation or a preceptorship, mention this. Many companies like to “keep it in the family,” and employers value someone who has already succeeded within their organization.
Paragraph 4: Invitation to Contact
Keep this paragraph concise and confident. No bells and whistles; simply conclude your letter by thanking the employer for their consideration and inviting them to contact you. Make sure you’re easy to reach—include both your phone number and email.
Nurse Cover Letter DOs and DON’Ts
In composing your nursing application cover letter, follow the DOs and DON’Ts below to be sure your submission is clear, professional, and effective.
- Read the job description carefully.
- Research the healthcare organization.
- Learn the company’s mission statement and values.
- Use the same template as your resume.
- Use strong action verbs.
- Be specific about experience and skills.
- Copy and paste from your resume.
- Use bullet points. (Write in sentence and paragraph form only.)
- Use the same letter for every application.
- Plagiarize other letters. (Find inspiration, but be authentic.)
Your nurse cover letter template should match your resume template. The same goes for your reference sheet. Which brings us to…
Part II: The Reference Sheet
Your nursing job application reference sheet should always be available when asked for. This is a page that lists the names and contact information of people who are willing to speak on your behalf to a potential employer, verify your work history, and elaborate on your qualifications and character. Always carry a few copies of your reference sheet in your portfolio—you never know when it will be requested.
There are two types of references: professional and personal. A professional reference is someone who knows your work, like a former supervisor or coworker. A personal reference is a person who can speak to your character, like a neighbor or teacher. A good rule of thumb is to include up to three professional references (but no fewer than two), and one personal reference.
If you’re a nurse with no work experience, do your best to include two or three references from other sources. A nurse preceptor is a great reference. Additionally, if your only work experience is from an unrelated field, it can be helpful to include some of those references as well.
Each professional reference listing should include:
- Professional title
- Company of employment
- Location (city)
- Phone number
- Relationship to you
- Years known
Each personal reference should list the same, minus title and employer.
Always follow reference etiquette. Remember, you’re asking people to vouch for you, so treat them with proper consideration and gratitude. Don’t list a reference without express permission, and make sure you let them know to expect a call if someone requests your references. If a potential employer does call one or more of your references, be sure to thank the reference (especially if you get the job!).
Where to Go for More Job Search Advice
If you are a WCU student or graduate who is looking for tips and support as you conduct your nursing job search, the WCU Career Services team offers our one-on-one career guidance, professional development workshops, assistance with finding job leads, and more.
You can also keep following our blog with more helpful tips from our Job Hunter series! Keep a lookout for our next post, which will cover interview etiquette for nursing applicants.
WCU provides career guidance and assistance but cannot guarantee employment. The views and opinions expressed are those of the individuals and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs or position of the school or of any instructor or student.