The 5 S’s of successful cover letters

As a new dental hygiene graduate, your employment search can be daunting. Knowing how to construct a cover letter that will help you stand out will help you not only find a job, but find a job that is a good fit for you.

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Congratulations to those of you who have graduated this semester! All of that hard work has paid off, and you are on the edge of starting your professional career. As you are searching for the right job for you, we are continuing with our employment series.
Whiteley Cover Letters

The goal is to provide you with some tips and techniques to make the search process less daunting and to help guide you toward a good employment fit. This month, let’s talk about cover letters. Your cover letter is the very first impression you leave with a prospective employer. To simplify, I like to call my recommendations the five S’s for successful cover letters.

Be succinct!

A good cover letter should be short and to the point. My recommendation is one half to two thirds of a page maximum. Think of it like this:

  • An introductory paragraph including why this specific position appeals to you.
  • A second paragraph highlighting your unique talents and skills, and how they relate to the particular opening.
  • Lastly, a closing paragraph with a “call to action” that wraps up your letter in a customized marketing package. What I mean by that is to reiterate your interest and welcome the opportunity to speak further.

If it’s too long, chances are, you will lose your reader before they get to the point you were trying to make. If it’s too brief, it looks like a form letter that you send to every prospective employer. If doesn’t stand out, your résumé may end up on the bottom of the pile.

Be specific!

Really read and then read again the job description, noting key words. Customize your letter to highlight your strengths and where your experience match what the employer is looking for.

For example, if they are looking for someone who has the ability to interact well with all types of patients and this is something you excel at, mention that! For example, you could say, “I was excited to see the relationship-building focus mentioned in the job description. I have experience educating a diverse population of patients of varied age groups. My natural ability to read people, coupled with my passion for dentistry, and easygoing nature has allowed me to guide them to better oral health.”

Try to provide an example to back up what you are saying. Whenever possible, it is helpful to find out specifics about the employer. If you know the hiring manager’s name, be sure to address the letter specifically to that person.

A website is a perfect place to get a good sense of the feel and culture of the place of employment, as well as give you some insight and clues as to where you may mesh well. If it is a job position that doesn’t list a specific employer, consider the attributes that make for a top-notch hygienist—excellent clinical skills, strong communication skills, ability to build relationships, teamwork, reliability, and the list goes on! Hone in on your best attributes and strengths and provide a window to showcase the type of person you are.

Stand out!

Don’t rehash your résumé; it’s not necessary. Use the letter to show all that is uniquely you. Explain specifically why this particular job piqued your interest and what specifically you can contribute based on what they are looking for.

There may be many other applicants with similar knowledge and experience, but there is only one you. Showcase your unique strengths that make you a solid employee and a great fit for what the employer is seeking.

Spelling matters!

Spelling, grammar, and proper business letter formatting count. The letter is a reflection of you, so you want to be professional and show that you have good communication skills as well as a strong focus on details.

Be sure to brush up on this, if this is not your strength. Your contact information should also be included in the letter as well as on your résumé. Double-check your outgoing voicemail greeting to be sure that it is clear and professional. Proofread your letters several times and have a second set of eyes read them before sending.

Sign off!

Sign off on your letter with reiteration of your interest and that you feel you would be a great fit. Thank the reader for their time and consideration.

The last sentence before your closing and signature should be the “call to action.” Be sure to wrap up with a professional closing, such as “Sincerely” along with your name and credentials—Kay Nine, BS, RDH, for example.

You may find it helpful to keep a folder of the positions you have applied for and the dates you applied. This will help you keep track, avoid duplication, and will allow a good system for follow-up.

You are at such an exciting time in your career. Be sure to present yourself in a professional light at all times; the dental world can be very small. Also, remember that as much as you are making an impression, it is equally important for you to realize that you are screening potential employers as well, finding the best match for you.

Stay tuned until next month when we will discuss job search strategies. Until then, best of luck and remember all the wonderful things you have to offer!

Also in this series

Tips for writing first resume: Standing out as a professional dental hygienist

Tips to writing first resume, part 2: Leaving a good impression as a dental hygienist


Julie Whiteley, BS, RDH, is certified in human resources. She holds degrees in business administration and dental hygiene and has worked extensively in both fields. She is on the faculty of Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences University in Boston. Julie bridges her knowledge and experience from business, clinical hygiene, and teaching to deliver information and programs that enhance dental practices. Contact her at juliec.whiteley@gmail.com.

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