Introduction: the optometry cover letter
Unlike a curriculum vitae (CV) or resume, both of which use a fairly standard formula, an optometry cover letter is a little more ambiguous and challenging to write. But a strong first impression made by a stand out optometry cover letter can mean the difference between a great new job or residency, and your file going into the shredder. At least that is what we’ve been told.
The characteristics of the optometric profession are such that your CV and letters of recommendation (especially for a residency) carry more weight than the cover letter in most cases, though there always exceptions.
This may not be true in professions that require more creativity or general writing skills. Then, the cover letter is the star.
That is not to say that a solid optometry cover letter isn’t important, but it likely won’t make as significant of an impact as the other items during your optometrist job searching process. However, there is no reason not to write the best letter possible to complement the rest of your package.
The structure of a good optometry cover letter
A single page with five to six short paragraphs is normally ample to make your point. The first paragraph should be a short introduction stating your interest in the position and how you heard about it. Employers put a significant amount of work into writing ads or getting the word out about their position.
Something along the lines of, “I reviewed your ad on the CovalentCareers website and am very interested in discussing the details of the opportunity” gives them a sense of satisfaction that their ad strategy worked as planned.
An employer mentally patting themselves on the back right before getting into the meat of your letter primes them to look at your candidacy in a more positive light.
The remaining paragraphs can be developed as you deem appropriate. But, I believe they should answer the following:
- What aspects of the business are most important the employer?
- Where can value be added to the practice?
- How do I add value in these areas?
Answering these questions in your letter not only communicates to the employer that you have an understanding of the practice, but it also forces you to prove to yourself that you are actually a good fit. The more specific you are with answers, the better you appear.
1. Identifying the business aspects important to the employer
The first step in writing the body of the cover letter isn’t to write at all; it’s to research. If you’re planning on spending eight hours of your day with these folks, it’s worth a couple hours of investigation into their business.
Researching your potential employer serves two purposes:
- You arm yourself with all kinds of information about their practice philosophy, patients, and services.
- You ask yourself the question, “Does all of this information align with my goals?”
You may find that the more detailed analysis you do of a particular opportunity, the less enthusiastic you become. A small initial investment of time to do your homework can save a large amount of time that would be wasted pursuing something that isn’t what you’re looking for.
The opposite is also true. The job can be better than expected, and detailed knowledge acquired will be an advantage as the relationship moves forward.
The next step is taking all of the detailed information and finding common themes. One of the things practice management consultants drill into their doctors is a need to identify a value, mission or brand that represents their practice. If they aren’t doing this, it can be a red flag that the practice is floating on without much direction or purpose. If the doctors have put in the work, you should be able to identify those values and brands through their website, ads, etc.
A practice’s brand might be “family-centered care,” “latest technological services,” or “fashion focused optical.” Regardless of what it is, explicitly demonstrate you recognize these unique aspects of their practice. I do it with a list.
Here’s an example from a recent cover letter I wrote.
The aspects of your practice that most interest me include:
- Opportunity to practice patient-focused, full-scope optometry.
- Significant potential for growth in the geographical area.
- Exposure to business and management aspects of practice.
- Opportunity to build long-term relationships within the community.
- Access to the most advanced diagnostic equipment.
- Location and proximity to the best outdoor recreation opportunities in the country.
The practice I applied to was a small, private practice in a vacation town. The office prides itself on taking the time to care for their patients’ refractive, medical and other vision needs in a self-described, “outdoor enthusiast’s paradise.”
They value relationships with their patients. They are also very proud of their Optomap and OCT. So with those pieces of specific information, I was able to generate the list that says, “I see what you’re doing and this is what I like about it.”A potential employer will know you “get it” and continue reading.
A quick note on non-business factors, like geographic location.
You might want to surf all day or hike the majestic coastlines of your preferred city…but don’t tell your potential employer that’s why you want the job.
It’s perfectly acceptable to mention it, especially if you have ties to the area. Employers are interested in someone who is going to stick around. But, as soon as you start diving into how much you can’t wait to join a practice so you can ski every day, it will turn the doctor off, even if they themselves want to go skiing every day. It’s okay to recognize common ground with a short comment, but follow that with an explicit comment about how your primary focus is on improving their practice by adding value.
2. Identify areas where value can be added
This can be tricky, especially for a new grad, who likely doesn’t have much practice management experience.
Some ads are very specific about what they need and you need only recognize that in your cover letter. However, many of the job postings out there can be vague and non-specific. “Looking for an enthusiastic doctor to join a busy practice” is often what you get. It’s up to you to put yourself in the shoes of the employer and think about why they are hiring. If they are busy, maybe they are looking to expand evening and weekend hours.
Maybe they want to expand some of their services, including specialty contact lenses, VT, low vision, etc. They may even be looking for someone to take over their social media platforms and develop a more modern online presence. The point is to do your best. If you really don’t have a good idea, go to step number three and work backwards. (More on this in the next section.)
3. Explain how you add value
This is arguably the most important part of the entire optometry cover letter. It’s your chance to say “this is how I can help you.” It’s the time when you tie in some of the most impressive and unique parts of your CV into your pitch. It is NOT a time to repeat them, but to explain how your experiences translate into making you a great doc. In order to do so, you have to have done impressive and unique things!
Luckily, almost everyone has done said impressive and unique things. It just takes a little context to make an impact.
For example, if you’ve done a number of VOSH service trips a sentence like, “My experience during outreach trips has helped me develop a deep understanding of flexibility in clinic flow, alternate communication strategies and modified treatments based on circumstance.”
An employer reads that as, “This person isn’t going to hit the panic button as soon as something unusual happens.” In one sentence, you explained that you will add value by not letting a difficult patient throw off the whole schedule.
Look at your CV and figure out how to highlight experiences that make you valuable. Even if you can’t nail down exactly where in the practice the employer wants to improve as described in the previous section; explaining how you can be a great addition in a hypothetical situation, like developing a vision therapy (VT) service once a week, is very powerful.
Just make sure you’ve put in the work on understanding the logistics first. You can be the best therapist in the world, but it won’t mean a thing if you can’t make your service practical and profitable.
You can also frame potential weaknesses into strengths. What is the one thing new doctors lack? Experience. However, that also means they have fewer bad habits that need to be broken at a new location, an understanding of the latest treatment options and generally more flexibility with hours. It’s up to you to present it this way.
The tricky thing is figuring out how to say, “I’m independent but coachable.”
Employers want autonomous and creative associates that practice in such a way that aligns with practice goals and won’t go rouge. Be creative; just make sure you get the point across.
The logical follow up to highlighting your adaptability to a new job is an offer to work your tail off. You may not have seen what Dr. Dave has seen in his 10 years of practice, but you can almost always work harder. It helps when you have examples on your CV that show you’ve gone above and beyond in the past. Highlight those areas.
There’s no formula to the “perfect optometry cover letter,” and even if there were, it would be useless because everyone would use it. That said, there common themes that if addressed in ways unique to the opportunity can help make good cover letter great.
The first step is gaining unique and special skills that set you apart from the rest. If you’re still in school, it’s a perfect time to do something no one else is doing. Even if isn’t related optometry, you will learn things and gain experiences that make you desirable. The trick is communicating it to a potential employer. Once you’ve accumulated those experiences, sit down and write a cover letter about how much you’re going to GET AFTER IT at this new practice.
You’ll be surprised by the responses you get.