Your residency cover letter might be the most challenging part of the whole application process.
If I could go back in time to pharmacy school, there are so many things I wish I could do differently. It’s the only place you can truly distinguish yourself from the hundreds of other candidates who are competing for the same PGY1 position you are. It’s your opportunity to really shine.
Which means it’s harder to write because there’s no formula. Unlike CVs, which follow a certain format, your cover letter is your chance to grab the residency program director’s (RPD’s) attention and convince him that he’d be a fool to miss the chance to interview you.
The good news is that you can learn to write attention-grabbing cover letters. I know this because my own PGY1 cover letter was nothing special. I applied to 9 residencies, and I was invited to 1 interview.
When it was time to compete for PGY2, I revamped my cover letter, tweaked my accomplishments, and wrote a letter designed to grab the RPD’s attention. For my hard work, I landed interviews for 3 of the 5 positions I applied for.
The even better news is that you can skip the painful PGY1 lesson by learning ahead of time how to avoid common cover letter mistakes.
1. Making self-evident statements
You have limited space in your cover letter to grab the RPD’s attention.
You’re wasting valuable real estate when you offer bland statements like, “I’m writing to you to apply for…” Given that you’ve sent a resume and a cover letter, it’s a safe bet that she understands your intentions.
Obvious statements like, “I really want the position” offer nothing compelling to the reader. The same is true of vague statements like, “I’m a hard worker.”
Instead of telling the RPD you’re a hard worker, demonstrate it by crafting a stellar cover letter.
2. Failing to demonstrate interest
RPDs have read enough cover letters to recognize when a student is simply going through the motions.
Bland cover letters may hint that you’re applying for residencies simply because it’s the expected route for pharmacy students. They will not endear you to the decision-makers who are seeking to find the best candidates for their programs.
Craft a letter that demonstrates genuine interest in the program you’re applying for. Tell the RPD what interests you about the residency and absolutely share how your relevant experience has created this personal interest.
Specifically outline the aspects of the program that interest you to show the decision-makers that you’ve done your homework.
3. Making assumptions
RPDs have a tremendous amount of experience in their roles, but they can’t possibly know everything about every program. Rotations may vary, and responsibilities within those rotations may differ between programs.
Don’t assume the RPDs know the details of your experience. Provide specific details about your rotations, your presentations, and your projects. If you did a journal, specify that.
Don’t overlook volunteer opportunities and activities outside the classroom. If you managed unrelated activities (like marching band or a sport) along with your school work, share that as well.
4. Failing to distinguish yourself
Pharmacy students share a lot of common traits and most have similar GPAs, similar transcripts, and similar extracurricular activities. If you fail to demonstrate what sets you apart from the other candidates, you’ll struggle to land interviews for residencies.
Instead of telling the RPDs about your passion for patient care, share personal stories that demonstrate how you’ve exceeded expectations in pursuit of that passion. Share something unusual that other students won’t necessarily be able to share.
Suggest ways that you can benefit the program and speak specifically to how it will benefit you at the same time.
Diversify your letters of recommendation and your experiences to prove that you have a broad range of capabilities.
The very best news is that you can avoid the kind of 1-for-9 record that I carved out for myself by making a small investment in your future and learning to write a bulletproof cover letter.
Given that the cover letter is the most challenging, and most important, part of your residency application, it makes sense to enlist all the help you can. The Cover Letter Mastery course will help you create memorable cover letters and secure residency interviews.
The course tackles specifics like how to use a hook to draw the reader into your letter, how to provide credible evidence that substantiates your claims, how to get into the mind of the decision-makers, and it even provides an interview with an RPD who dissects sample letters. We even address what to do if, after all of this, you still aren’t confident in your letter.
The Cover Letter Mastery course provides everything you need to write an attention-grabbing cover letter, and to limit the possibility that you won’t match with a program.
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.