5 Tips for Cover Letters
Dear NP Career Coach: I am having difficulty with my cover letter. I am an NP who graduated in 2007 and became ANCC certified in 2013. As a nurse I have worked in many care environments and I have also held several leadership jobs such as nurse manager and clinical leader. I am determined now to transition into NP practice. I have recently taken a NP Practice Update and Pharm update. How do I find the balance between having no NP experience and presenting my nursing experience as valuable?
Dear Job Seeker: This is a more common situation than you might realize. It's true that if a year or more has passed that it become more difficult to find that first NP position. But the good news is that it is not impossible, you just need to have a good strategy.
Here are five tips that will help you if you have a large span of time between graduation and your first job.
Own it! You are correct in identifying that you will need to explain in your cover letter why you have the long gap since graduation. Ignoring the obvious isn't a successful strategy. The key is to put a positive spin on your decision while avoiding the need to over explain and sound like you are making an excuse. Let the reader know this was a purposeful decision to continue to work as an RN because you had an opportunity to gain some important leadership experience. Point out that the skills you have gained will enhance your performance as a NP.
Why now? Your cover letter needs to show the reader that you have passion, not just passion in general, but passion for this particular job. Yes, this means that each job is going to need an individualized cover letter. One size fits all cover letters stand out like a sore thumb and do nothing to convince the employer that you are serious about their position. This is true in general, but becomes even more important when you are in the position of having to prove yourself.
Highlight your refresher courses. After you have explained your absence and proclaimed your enthusiasm you must address the employers concern that your skills have become rusty or outdated. Whenever there is a gap of greater than a year it's critical that you demonstrate to the employer that you have taken steps to stay current. Refresher courses show you acknowledge your challenges and that you are motivated to be fully prepared for your first job.
Don't try to be something you aren't - which is seasoned. Regardless of how long it's been since you graduated you are still considered a new graduate. While you aren't saying this in your cover letter do keep it in mind when you are applying for jobs. Choose only jobs that are new grad friendly. It is okay, however, to point out how your leadership makes you a better new grad candidate.
And lastly, you may want to consider working with a recruiter. Because recruiters work directly with the employer it's a little like having a back stage pass. A recruiter has direct access to the ear of the hiring manager. Sometimes it's just better to explain certain situations verbally and a recruiter can do that for you.
A cover letter is essential for all applications, but critical when you have a story to tell or situation like a gap between graduation and your first NP job that you need to explain. If properly written, a cover letter can open doors and help you take that first step to your first job.