Envision this scenario…
You’ve just finished uploading your applications into PhorCAS. All that’s left to do is go get the residency of your dreams. You spent hour after painstaking hour crafting your CV, getting the right letters or recommendation, and making countless revisions to your cover letter.
That cover letter was a monster too. There are plenty of resources out there to help you with your CV, but there isn’t much guidance on cover letters. And you’re a smart cookie. You know that the cover letter is one of the most important parts of your application packet. You know it’s your one chance to convince the Residency Program Director (RPD) that you’re the perfect fit for her program.
You’re tired, you’re a little hungry, and you’re feeling the warm buzz of caffeinated bliss flowing through your veins.
But you also feel good. You put a lot of time into this. The right residency is exactly where you want to start your pharmacy career. You’ve worked hard to obtain clinical knowledge for the last 4 years. It’s time to put it into practice. There’s a sense of “nervous satisfaction” that comes with taking the plunge and hitting the submit button on PhorCAS.
You have visions of the Residency Program Director (RPD) receiving your application. And nodding in approval as she moves through your CV. You can see her reading every word that you wrote and rewrote for your cover letter and thinking “This is the PERFECT candidate!”
Alright. Back to reality…
You’d like to think this is how it works. But it’s not.
Here’s the truth that no one will tell you…
Your cover letter may not even be read by the RPD. It’s pretty common practice for residency programs to divvy up the pool of applicants to the RPD, the clinical preceptors, even the current residents. That’s right, your entire application might be reviewed by someone who’s only a year ahead of you.
And if the RPD reviews your cover letter, you’ll only get about 30 seconds of her time. Put yourself in her shoes. There are literally 100 other applicants. She’s going to skim through your cover letter faster than a clickbaity Buzzfeed post about “22 Pictures of Cats Dressed Up Like Jedi Knights.” (I’d read that)
Your cover letter, that you spent hours writing and revising. The same cover letter that you had professors, friends, and coworkers give you feedback on. The same cover letter that is a distillation of you. Your life, your experiences, your hopes and aspirations. You may have spent over a week just on those 3 or 4 paragraphs.
Your cover letter gets 30 seconds of the reader’s time.
So, be honest with yourself. Does your cover letter stand out?
The goal of the cover letter is to get you invited to an interview. Will your cover letter get you results? Is it the first step on the path to the perfect residency?
Like it or not, your cover letter is one of the most important parts of your application. It’s the only measure a program has about your personality and your goals. No matter how fantastic you are, if your cover letter isn’t amazing, you can kiss that residency interview goodbye.
Some pharmacy students used my Cover Letters advice from my course Cover Letter Mastery,
and here's what they said:
"I was fortunate to match to my number 1 program and receive interviews to many other top notch places. My letter of intent/cover letter was on a different level this year and I thank you for your assistance. I applied to 12 programs and got 8 Interviews. I thank you again for creating your program that assist with letter of intent."
- Heather Stecher, PharmD Candidate 2018
Who Am I?
Heyo, this is Alex Barker; creator of TheHappyPharmD.com.
I know the game that’s being played on the other end of the application table. I’ve been through the process multiple times on both sides. And the lessons I’ve learned can help you write a cover letter that gets results.
Of course, it’s no good to just tell you that I can help you. Let me show you. Here are some examples from my own life.
Here’s the truth. I applied to 9 PGY1 residencies programs. And I only received 1 interview request.
It still stings to say that out loud.
My results were brutal! It was in large part due to my lack-luster cover letter.
But for my PGY2 application process, I honed my skills, added interesting accomplishments and applied with more gusto.
I sent off 5 PGY2 applications and received 3 interview requests.
Since my residency, I’ve written Pharmacy Times articles on cover letters, interviewed multiple residency directors, and helped hundreds of pharmacy students write better cover letters.
And don’t just take my word for it. See what other people just like you have said after I’ve helped them rewrite their cover letter:
"Before working with Alex, my cover letter was extremely generic, boring and impersonal. I wasn't receiving any interview requests because of my lack-luster cover letter. Alex helped me create a cover letter that I can not only be proud of, but immediately started getting results. I have had numerous interviews since and I believe it is a direct result of a cover letter that sets me apart from the rest and is a reflection of who I am. His valuable insight was just what I needed to create the perfect cover letter!"
- Justine Marryott, PharmD
The bottom line is this. I’ve had tremendous personal success writing remarkable cover letters. I’ve helped many others have the same success. And I can help you write a cover letter that will get you invited to residency interviews.
It’s frustrating, because the cover letter is one of the most important parts of your residency application. It’s the only part of the application packet that lets the program know who you are.
And with every cover letter you write, you’re making the same preventable mistakes.
The 3 Biggest Mistakes You’re Making on Your Cover Letter
Cover letters are the biggest source of stress with most residency applicants. With so much riding on them, I totally get it. A well-written cover letter will make the RPD stop what she’s doing and immediately put your application in the “interview” pile.
But a poorly-written letter will leave you with a pile of PhorCAS application fees and a bunch of letters that look like this:
I would like to express my genuine gratitude for your interest in our PGY-1 Pharmacy Residency program. While we were impressed with your background and experience, selecting a final candidate was a complex task due to our large number of skilled applicants. To this end, we regret that we are unable to consider your application for our PGY-1 program at this time. Our choice in no way reflects upon your excellent skills and abilities.
We sincerely wish you the best in your residency search and appreciate your interest in our organization.
1. You’re Using “Million Dollar Words”
Which of the following sounds more compelling to you?
Although I did a plethora of activities in college, my assiduous efforts enabled me to succeed.
Although I juggled many activities in college, I succeeded through persistent work.
I’m not sure where we picked this up, but somewhere along the line pharmacists and pharmacy students learned that “professional writing” meant “using big words.” It’s just not true. Which of the above phrases sounds more like you? Which one do you have an easier time reading and remembering? Imagine an entire letter filled with phrases like the above...which one would you rather read?
2. You’re Telling Instead of Showing
Buzzword statements about your “commitment to excellence” and your “deep passion for improving patient outcomes” are meaningless (and they make you sound like every other applicant). I can almost guarantee your cover letter is guilty of this. Instead, give concrete examples (with numbers and data if possible) that highlight the skill or character trait you are emphasizing. Showing is always better than telling.
3. You Don’t have a Theme or a Narrative
Most applicants try to cram every accomplishment or experience they’ve ever had on their cover letter. But there’s nothing to tie it all together. A narrative hooks the reader right from the very beginning and pulls them along your entire cover letter. You have to get this right. Remember, your cover letter only gets 30 seconds. If it doesn’t immediately draw the reader in, you’re just another application in the pile.
How to Make a Cover Letter that Gets Interviews
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…
Your cover letter is the only piece of your application packet that let’s the RPD know who you are. On paper, you’re competing against people with the same qualifications. Your CV is going to be nearly identical to every other residency applicant. All of you have good grades. All of you took a leadership role in a student chapter of APhA or ASHP. Most of you have research experience, and most of you presented a poster on your experience at Midyear.
Why should you match over someone else?
Your cover letter is the X-Factor that can tip the scales in your favor. It’s the only part of your application that can grab the reader’s attention and draw her into your story. That’s how you stand out in a sea of applicants and get invited to interviews.
So, how do you actually write a cover letter that grabs attention, showcases your personality, and gets results?
Introducing…Cover Letter Mastery
I’ve been in your shoes, and I’ve been on both sides of the interview table multiple times. I know what gets results. Cover Letter Mastery is a distillation of everything I have learned about writing cover letters that work.
It’s a self-paced course, meaning you can work your way through the program as quickly (or as slowly) as you want.
"Writing a letter of intent was an incredibly difficult task for me. I think the biggest obstacle students face is getting "our foot in the door," so to speak. We all have the skills to pursue a post grad residency but this course really gave me a better perspective on how I can use these skills and experiences to my advantage and make the programs WANT to meet me. The course helped me make a better attack plan and write my letter in a systematic fashion rather than spilling all my rambling thoughts into a word document, hating it, then rewriting it, rinse and repeat."
- Zahava Picado, PharmD Candidate 2018; Residency Matched 2018
You’re busy, and your time is valuable, so I made Cover Letter Mastery short, sweet, and to the point. There isn’t any fluff with this course. You’ll get 12 short video lessons, along with guides and worksheets that take you from “just another applicant” to sitting across from your future boss at the interview table.
Here’s some of what’s included:
Would you recommend this course to others?
Here's what some students had to say...
"Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Residency applications are an expensive process! Paying for the course is a drop in the bucket and well worth it! This is a skill I'm going to need even if I don't match for residency, so I am all for taking advantage of an opportunity that is only going to help me succeed."
- Emily Loudermilk, PharmD Candidate 2018
"Absolutely! I would recommend (and have to several people) this course to everyone who is applying for residencies or jobs. The course reinforces the importance of a cover letter and provides essential lessons in writing through succinct videos."
- Cody Johnson, PharmD Candidate 2018; Updated 1/24/18: "I ended up with 3 interview requests, which all have me pretty excited."
"Yes. I think this course is beneficial and help students to understand why some people get many interview offers, some don't."
- Misa Nguyen, PharmD Candidate 2018
"I would highly recommend this program to P4 students who are struggling or unsure about how to begin a letter of intent."
- Zahava Picado, PharmD Candidate 2018
"Absolutely. I loved that it felt personal and the review at the end was particularly helpful."
- Heather Stecher, PharmD Candidate 2018
"I would highly, HIGHLY recommend this course to everyone and anyone! I think the lessons from this course is definitely applicable to all stages of your career whether it's for a PGY1, PGY2, or any future position in pharmacy! I was reminded of how important it is to be confident and to believe in myself and my accomplishments and I think we all need that little friendly reminder during a very stressful time in our lives. The material that Alex put together was so helpful and I truly believe that I will be able to snag those interviews in the coming month or so after completing this course and practicing writing my letters. This course could be completed in no time at all; the length of each video was appropriate and the presented material was relevant. Alex seems like such a nice and positive guy so there was nothing but good vibes coming from this entire course!"
- Catherine Nguyen, PharmD Candidate 2018
Ready for a change yet?
Heyo, I’m Alex and I’ve developed the Career Jumpstart Masterclass because I’m obsessed with helping pharmacists find fulfilling careers. I don’t want any pharmacist to feel stuck, burned out or completely devoid of energy after work.
I know this class works because I’ve been there! This class was developed by me and dozens of other pharmacists who started EXACTLY where you are today. Best of all, you don’t have to make all the mistakes I made (trust me, there were plenty) because I’ve worked them out for you.
What I want for you is to find an inspiring career and have the energy to do the things you love again. You’ll be on the same path as other pharmacists I’ve helped.