Whether you're applying for a position at a large hospital system or a small doctor's office, your cover letter may be your first exposure to the hiring manager. That's why it's critical to make sure each letter is focused, polished and professional.
As a nursing school graduate, you know how important it is to pay attention to details ― one wrong calculation or missed note can drastically change a patient's outcome. It might sound dramatic but showing that you're committed to getting things right is important. Here's how to write a nursing cover letter that will help you secure your first RN job.
1. Craft your narrative
As you begin drafting your cover letter, take notes on why you became interested in nursing in the first place.
Cover letters and resumes are "very important as you look for opportunities," says Kashia Dunner, a business strategy consultant and former career advisor at Colorado College. "You also need self-awareness and an understanding of why you're pursuing certain goals or positions, and why you're interested in networking with certain people."
Use this self-reflection to create a story arc in your cover letter: one that connects the dots in your resume and helps a potential employer understand why you will make an outstanding employee.
For example, perhaps someone in your family dealt with a chronic health condition when you were a child, and you witnessed first-hand how excellent nurses make a difference in care. If that put you on the path to becoming an RN, mention those details in your cover letter. Keep the story short but try to show why you began a career in this field and why you are a good fit for the position.
2. Highlight your past experiences
As a recent nursing graduate, it's easy to feel like you don't have any real work experience. But you've had more experience than you think through the following activities:
- Clinical experience
- Part-time jobs
- Volunteer work
If you don't immediately find your dream job, volunteering in the field is an especially effective way to network and bolster your resume before landing a full-time position.
When you work on your RN cover letter, make a point to show how your experiences prepared you for the job you're seeking. Let's say you're applying for a position as a home health nurse. While you might not have worked in that exact capacity before, if you volunteered in an assisted living facility or worked with an elderly population in a different role, you have experience that is relevant to your prospective position.
As a new nurse, your cover letter is the place to mention these special skills or achievements that make you stand out as a candidate.
3. Create a custom RN cover letter for each position
A generic cover letter expressing a muted desire to work as an RN won't get you noticed. You need to write a customized cover letter for each position, stressing the unique qualities that make you an excellent candidate for that work environment. You'll want to be sure to carefully review the job description and identify the specific skills, experience, and traits the organization is looking for.
When Dunner coaches students or job-seekers, she suggests applicants do the following:
- Focus on their skill sets and the specific qualities they can offer an employer.
- Next, add in the personal interest component: What about this particular job draws you in?
This formula helps you think about big-picture career questions, such as which sector of nursing you'd like to work in. The formula also provides a reliable map for writing a cover letter. Before you start writing, make an informal list of the following:
- Keywords in the job listing that jumped out to you
- Skills you have that are relevant
- Relevant experiences you have with this branch of nursing or the place where you're applying (for example, did you do your clinical work in a different department in the same hospital?)
- People you might know in similar jobs or at the same place
After you've jotted down these qualifications and connections, you're ready to start writing your new grad RN cover letter. (Our Cover Letter Builder is a great way to turn your ideas into a professional cover letter.)
You want the hiring manager to know you're compassionate, skilled and good with people. That means your registered nurse cover letter should be polite and friendly rather than dry and purely informational. Coming off as amiable can show that your patient care skills are backed with the people skills that nurses need.
Once you've drafted your cover letter, proofread it to catch spelling or grammatical mistakes. For an extra layer of editing, ask a friend or family member to read it, or run it through an online grammar checker like our Cover Letter Builder.
4. Prepare the rest of your application materials
Your well-edited entry level nursing cover letter will be an important part of your entire application package, so put in the extra effort to make everything a strong, error-free reflection of who you are and the types of jobs you want. That means editing your resume (your resume must be customized, just like your cover letter) and creating or updating your LinkedIn profile.
Before you apply, you'll also want to make sure you have any necessary licenses in order. (Here's an excellent place to figure out what licenses are required by your state.)
5. Activate your network
Few things are more frustrating than sending a perfect cover letter and resume and never hearing back. Getting your cover letter and resume directly into the hands of a hiring manager or another connection you have at your dream place of employment can help cut down on those missed opportunities. Adding classmates, professors, former employers and supervisors to your LinkedIn network can help you see if you have connections in common with the hiring manager.
Check in with your school's career center; they might know of alumni who work in a similar job or field that are able to put you directly in touch. Reaching out can put you one step closer to landing your first full-time nursing job.
As you make important decisions about what kind of nursing career you'd like to have, make sure you put your best foot forward with your application materials. LiveCareer's Cover Letter Builder and Resume Builder provide more than advice — they provide inspiration and step-by-step guidance, and allow you to create both documents in no time at all.