Cover Letter Prep
So you’re finally finishing residency and ready to move on to your first big job or fellowship. Your CV is polished (since you obviously used the awesome EMRA CV Guide, right?!), and now all you have to do is put together your Cover Letter.
Wait – what’s a cover letter you ask? And why do you need one in the first place?
A Cover Letter is written by you to a potential employer describing your skills and experience as they pertain to the job you’re hoping to land from them.
While having a great CV is essential to the job search, a well-written cover letter can be just as important; it’s your chance to distinguish yourself from other candidates with similarly competitive CVs and encourage the employer to want to learn more about you, ideally leading to an interview.
Okay you get it, but help! You have no idea what to write! Don’t worry – that’s what we’re here for! Let’s break it down.
- Start with your name and contact details at the top of the page. Make sure this information matches your CV!
- Next, include the name and contact info of the person who will receive your letter. This is usually the department chair, but in some cases may be the fellowship director or the recruiter. If you’re not sure who this person is, just call and ask!
- Address your letter to this person – “Dear Dr. Smith…”
- Keep the length to one page max, with size 10-12 font (never smaller!) and page margins at least 0.75 inches.
Content: What do I put in this thing, anyway?
The meat of your cover letter should accomplish the following four things:
1. State the position for which you are applying
- Are you looking for a full-time or part-time position? Are you applying for a fellowship spot? Primarily clinical work or with core faculty responsibilities?
- While it’s important to be clear about the job you want, no need to get super specific with the nitty gritty HR stuff; requests for salary, benefits, and hours should be left for the interview process
2. Convey a connection to the location or practice
- Did you grow up in the neighborhood? Do you have family or friends in the area? Do you love the population that ED serves?
- Be sure to read about the group or program and learn more about the specific job culture and requirements so you can reference relevant items and how they relate to you in your letter
3. Describe your skills and experiences that make you a desirable candidate and the right match for the job
- Think like an employer: What specific knowledge, skills, prior experience, or advanced training can you offer this position?
- Illustrate how how you've developed and demonstrated your strongest skills in the past. (Ex: If you were applying for a medical education fellowship, you might highlight lectures and teaching you’ve done and any leadership or formal education training you’ve completed)
- Highlight any ongoing or anticipated projects that may not have made it onto your CV quite yet but are relevant to this position
- Caution: This is not a space to simply regurgitate your CV. Instead, if you do mention a specific CV item, it should be because you are elaborating on the experience to support your qualifications
4. Finish with “the ask” and a “thank you”
- End your letter by asking the reader to look over your CV and contact you about an interview, and thank them for their time and consideration
- Try something simple like, "I have attached a copy of my CV for your review. I look forward to hearing from you about this application and appreciate your time and consideration.”
- Be positive and professional. When in doubt, err on the side of formality... but it is okay to let a little of your personality shine through!
- Do not send the same cover letter to every place you apply. If you are applying across the country or to a wide variety of practice settings, you should adjust your cover letter to reflect the unique characteristics or specifics of each location
- Proofread, proofread, and proofread some more! Just like your CV, be meticulous with formatting and other style details and have friends/mentors help you edit to ensure there are no spelling or grammar errors
- Print a copy of your cover letter and read it out loud to yourself. This will help you find any accidental grammar areas or typos that your eyes may otherwise miss having looked it over on a computer dozens of times
- Whenever you send your letter electronically, upload a PDF rather than a word processing document (e.g. Word, Pages) to ensure it looks the same on the employer’s computer as it does on yours
Can you show me an example?
Ok! Let’s take a look at something you might say in your cover letter and three ways you could word it:
Not So Good
Please find my CV attached (with a paperclip) for my application to work at ECG Memorial Hospital. You should definitely take a chance on me! I’ll just cut right to the chase: I just graduated residency and am looking for that new position to practice my skills as an Emergency Physician. You are one of four places I am applying. I may be a new EP, but I promise to work really hard to do good things for your department.
[...] As a recent graduate from a busy residency training program, I believe I will thrive at ECG Memorial. I have plenty of experience dealing with a similar patient population to ECG and am very interested in participating in your ED’s community outreach program with the local elementary schools as Pediatric Emergency Medicine is an interest of mine. Please consider me a strong candidate for the position.
[...] Training in a trauma center similar to ECG Memorial with over 100K ED patient visits per year has given me the skills needed to manage surge and rapidly triage patients with concern for efficiency as well as exceptional patient care. ED patient flow is a particular interest of mine, and as a resident member of the Provider at Triage Committee in my home institution, I am excited for the new triage system being trialed at ECG and feel I would be a strong and useful addition to your team during this transition.
YOU WANT MORE?
The Internet is full of sample Cover Letters. Search within your web browser of choice for good examples of formatting and content.
And don’t forget to turn to mentors and your program director for advice. They know you as a resident and may have some ideas on ways to shape your letter to really highlight your strengths!
We also like the following resources that may also be helpful to you:
“Physician Cover Letters: Why Writing a Good One is as Important as Ever” — NEJM
“Writing Compelling Physician Cover Letters” — NEJM
"How to Write a Cover Letter in 2024 + Examples" — Novoresume Career Blog