Love them or loathe them, the cover letter is an essential component of your application for resident and registrar critical care roles. While some consider the cover letter to be a mere formality, I encourage you to approach the letter as an important opportunity to impress the selection panel and increase your competitive edge over other applicants.
The ultimate role of the cover letter is to compel the reader to invite you for an interview. It should provide just enough information to convince the reader that you have the motivation, skills and experience suitable for a career in anaesthesia. Additionally, it should leave the reader believing that you have a genuine desire to obtain this role within their health service. Through your writing, the cover letter allows you to express elements of your personality and demonstrate your written communication skills.
A common way to approach the cover letter is to use the below three themes to form the body paragraphs of your letter. Included below are a few points to help get you started.
1) Outline your motivations for pursuing a career in anaesthesia
- What are the core reasons you are pursuing anaesthesia? Give this due consideration. Delve beyond an interest in physiology, pharmacology, and procedural medicine.
- You don’t have long to gain the reader’s interest – keep your introduction sharp and interesting.
2) Highlight key aspects from your CV and why these make you suitable for a career in anaesthesia
- Outline how several of your experiences have given you skills that will benefit your performance in the prospective role.
- What differentiates you from other candidates?
- Include examples unique to you that will help the reader to remember your cover letter.
3) Summarise why you are applying to this health service
Even if this health service is not your first choice, the reader should not be able to tell this.
For applications to external health services, speak to colleagues who work there to find out what is unique about their hospital. What opportunities exist at this health service that are not offered at your current health service? Find ways to acquire information beyond the hospitals intranet to demonstrate you have done your research.
If applying interstate, try and find a way to link your application to the region. Do you have family nearby? Did you grow up here? Health services ideally want to hire candidates who will work in the area at the completion of their training.
The cover letter is not an opportunity for you to provide an in-depth summary of your achievements to date – this is the role of your CV. Similarly, it is not a lengthy dissertation about the challenges of anaesthesia, or what you plan to do in ten years’ time. It should provide a snapshot of your application and serve as a professional introduction to who you are.
- Job advertisements will typically include instructions for the cover letter. Read these carefully, as they usually contain information including who to address the letter to, and specific details regarding what the letter should address.
- Start drafting your cover letters early to provide you with sufficient time for feedback and editing.
- Each letter must be specific to the health service you are applying to. Your letter should not look like it has been replicated for multiple applications. You need to start this early – researching health services and writing multiple cover letters is time consuming.
- Write impactful statements by using strong words and short sentences. The reader will not appreciate waffle.
- Avoid broad sweeping statements about skills. Provide evidence for the skills you wish to highlight by using examples.
- Selection committees skim through hundreds of cover letters for every role. Make yours memorable by painting a picture of who you are as a person (beyond a hardworking junior doctor who wants to become an anaesthetist). Briefly include appropriate non-medical information, such as unique interests or skills (e.g triathlete, skilled pianist, mountaineer).
- Do you best to avoid cliches such as ‘I enjoy pharmacology, physiology and procedural medicine’.
- Appreciate that your first draft will likely be very different from your final cover letter. Seek feedback from colleagues, especially anaesthetic registrars and consultants.
- Synthesising your motivations to pursue anaesthesia in the cover letter will assist you in preparing for the interview too!
- This is a professional letter. It should follow the traditional format of a letter and be written to a high standard
- Address your letter to the appropriate people (and the correct health service!)
- Include your name and contact details
- Refer to the job title that you are applying for (and reference number, if applicable)
- Avoid jargon and abbreviations
- Use professional formatting (size 10-12 Times New Roman or Calibri)
- Use appropriate margins
- Your cover letter should be no more than a page
- Spell check, spell check, and spell check again
Creating a cover letter that is succinct and convincing is no easy feat. Read the instructions provided in the application guide carefully and start drafting your letter early. Short sentences and professional language will assist you to clearly highlight your skills, experience, and points of difference. Seek feedback from your colleagues early and be prepared to make many revisions. A well written cover letter will strongly assist you in progressing through to the interview stage.