How Your Residency Application Cover Letter Can Make (Or Break) Your Future

DECEMBER 18, 2017

You may feel like you’re late to the game.


You’ve been so invested in simply surviving pharmacy school that residency never really crossed your mind. You’ve spent thousands of dollars and thousands of hours in the library simply trying to finish your PharmD degree.


Now you’ve discovered that if you really want to practice pharmacy, you need a residency under your belt.


Whether you’re the student who has been preparing for residency since day one, or you’re the student who just discovered the need for it, you have a lot to think about: updating your CV, finding volunteer opportunities, buffing up your accomplishments, and writing a cover letter.


The match for residency programs is a competitive process. You’re competing against your own classmates as well as pharmacy students from other campuses. Last year, 6,027 students enrolled in the match, and 4,132 were matched with a residency. That’s a 69% match rate and a great indicator that your application must stand out from the rest.  


It’s the reason your cover letter is vitally important.


Your cover letter is your first impression. It’s the Residency Program Director’s first opportunity to discover who you are. It’s your first opportunity to explain your intent: why you want to be a resident in a certain position and what makes you an ideal candidate for it.


By its very definition, a template will not set you apart, nor will an example letter given to you by a professor.


The harsh reality is that your cover letter will likely earn you 30 seconds of time. Thirty seconds for someone -- an RPD, a clinical preceptor, or perhaps even a current resident -- to determine your future as a resident. Thirty seconds to learn something about you that isn’t represented anywhere else. Thirty seconds to decide whether you’ll land an interview with a residency program.


I know because I’ve been on both sides of the application process. I applied to 9 PGY1 residency programs and earned one interview request.


Though I’m not proud of the result, I know now that my lackluster cover letter was to blame.


The following year, I honed my skills, tweaked my accomplishments and wrote cover letters that would get me noticed. Of my five PGY2 applications, I was invited for three interviews.


Your cover letter is your very best tool to earn yourself an interview, and it’s the place common mistakes can undermine your efforts.


Don’t choose professionalism over personality.


Your RPD is obviously very interested in your accomplishments but she wants to know more. Who are you? What are you like? What makes you unique?


The cover letter is the RPD’s only opportunity to see your personality, but very few people are able to capture that in a one-page letter. Your cover letter should look different from every other student out there. You’ve got one shot to get it right.


Tell them something they won’t see anywhere else in your application. Tell them what makes you different from the other students whose CVs and GPAs look remarkably similar to your own.


Don’t make broad generalities.

I’ve been on both sides of the application process numerous times, and nearly every cover letter I review includes general statements that could apply to anyone.


“I am passionate about patient care.”


“I am a competent leader.”


These statements lack credibility because they lack evidence. Don’t believe me?


What if I ask you to simply trust that I’m the guy to listen to about cover letters? No evidence. No basis for my claims. I’ll simply tell you that I’m your guy for cover letters.


Are you in?   


Perhaps it would be more effective for me to remind you of the huge improvement I saw in my own results when I followed what I’ve learned about cover letters. Or I could tell you that I’ve interviewed multiple residency directors about what they are seeking in a cover letter. I could even share that one student reported immediate results after working with me on her residency cover letters.


If you expect evidence in order to make an informed decision, isn’t it reasonable to expect RPDs to want the same?


Don’t re-use a cover letter.

Remember those broad generalities? If you’re using the same cover letter for multiple programs, your cover letter is too broad.


RPDs read hundreds of cover letters in one cycle, and they can immediately spot a generic one. If you write a generic cover letter, your application will likely get tossed. (Remember the 30 seconds?)


You are competing against dozens, or perhaps even hundreds, of other applicants. If you send a cover letter that highlights qualities unrelated to the residency, the RPD will spot it. If you send a letter that makes no specific mention of the residency at all, the RPD will notice.


Don’t lose sight of the prize.

It’s worth the effort to write an outstanding cover letter.


If you choose not to, your options are to find a placeholder job and try this whole process again next year or to choose a different career path that doesn’t require a residency.


Are you willing to sacrifice another year of your life to this residency process if it doesn’t go well the first time?


You could ask your professors for help with your cover letter, but they likely won’t be able to review every letter you write. Since you likely aren’t the only student who will ask for their help, they’ll be limited in the amount of time they can dedicate to it. More importantly, though they may have good intentions, they may not be experienced with cover letters.  


Alternatively, you could ask your friends for help, but they are likely as lost as you are. Enough said.


You could ask a resident to help you, but their experience is likely limited given that they are only slightly ahead of you in the process.


Your best option, of course, is to get serious about your application and use your precious time wisely.


I designed the Cover Letter Mastery Course because I understand the situation you’re in. It’s the culmination of everything I’ve learned about cover letters over the course of my pharmacy career.


The course includes 12 short video lessons in a consumable self-paced format. It includes guides and worksheets that will help you truly introduce yourself to the people who read your letters.


You’ll get lifetime access to videos, guides, and worksheets, and you’ll even get some examples of cover-letters-gone-bad.


Let me help you level the playing field. Allow me to show you how to differentiate yourself from all the other students competing for residencies. Let me teach you how to write a cover letter that will capture the RPDs attention.


You’ve only got 30 seconds. Make them count.

 


Alex Barker, PharmD
Alex Barker, PharmD
Alex Barker is the founder of The Happy PharmD, which helps pharmacists create an inspiring career, break free from the mundane "pill-flipping" life. He is a Full-time Pharmacist, Media Company founder, franchise owner, Business Coach, Speaker, and Author. He's also the Founder of Pharmacy School HQ, which helps students get into pharmacy school and become residents.
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