The 2019 pharmacy residency application process has officially opened.
You and thousands of other fourth-year students must begin the difficult task of assembling a bulletproof residency application packet while you continue to do the day-to-day work of pharmacy school.
In the coming months, you’ll create a resume, craft a bulletproof cover letter, and perfect your interview skills in pursuit of your dream residency position. In order to be competitive, you must seize every opportunity to stand out in a crowded field, because in 2018, only 67 percent of students who participated were matched with a residency.
Realistically, though, it can be difficult to stand out on paper.
You’re competing against other pharmacy students whose resumes and CVs look remarkably similar to your own: their GPAs are comparable, their transcripts are identical, and their goals are the same.
Your cover letter holds the key to distinguishing yourself for residencies.
Done correctly, it will single-handedly grab attention and earn you interviews. Done poorly, it will limit your chances for match.
So how do you put your cover letter to work earning you interviews?
Create a distinct cover letter for every unique residency.
The Residency Program Director has likely done this many times before, so she’ll immediately recognize a generic cover letter if you try to slip one past. She’ll also quickly spot one written from an online template because you probably aren’t the only person who figured a template would produce a good letter.
Each residency position will likely have hundreds of students competing to get it. Despite your academic similarities, you’re different from the other applicants who are seeking to match, and your cover letter must communicate that to the RPD.
Address the specifics of the position. Tweak your experience and your knowledge to show the RPD how you’re uniquely qualified for this particular residency.
Share your experiences that relate to this residency and make it impossible for the RPD to miss a chance to interview you.
Prioritize personality over professionalism.
It’s horribly intimidating to know that you have one shot at landing a residency. Add to that the knowledge that there are more students than there are positions and it’s enough to deter you from even trying.
Don’t discount the fact that you’ve got some experiences and qualities that those other students don’t have. Although your school paths might look similar, you’ve got volunteer opportunities, personality traits, and life experiences that set you apart from everyone else.
Though the RPD must concern himself with your accomplishments, he also cares about your qualifications and how you’ll fit with the existing team.
Work to highlight your personality in your cover letter. Let your resume do the work of promoting your professional qualifications.
Be specific to eliminate guesswork.
I’ve done duty on both sides of the residency process, and I discovered in my first year that lackluster cover letters earn lackluster interview results. I applied to 9 PGY1 programs and earned one interview request.
If you use phrases like “passionate about patient care” or describe yourself as a “competent leader,” your cover letter will look like hundreds of others that the RPD sees throughout the match process.
Instead of explaining your love of patient care, share an impactful experience you had caring for a patient. Tell a memorable story that demonstrates your outstanding leadership qualities.
Psychologist Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel Prize for Economics by proving that a human’s “emotional memory” was stronger than his “factual memory.” Humans remember experiences that relate to our emotions better than those that are simply based in fact. As you write your cover letter, use that knowledge to appeal to human emotion by sharing stories and experiences.
Carefully consider where you seek help.
Your own survival instincts will probably tempt you to seek shortcuts during this process. You’re juggling too many things at once, and you may find yourself “checking the block” on your application.
In a competitive field of students, RPDs will seek the students who give their best effort to the process, and they’ll invite those students to interview.
If you seek help from your professors realize that other students may ask for their help as well, so you may not get their undivided attention. Recognize, too, that they may not necessarily have experience with residencies, so weigh that knowledge as you accept their help.
If you ask current residents for help, though they are a year or two ahead of you, their knowledge will be limited to their specific experiences. If you seek help from fellow students, you might be making your own situation worse instead of better.
I learned the hard way how important a cover letter is during the match process. Following the disastrous PGY1 experience, I tweaked my accomplishments and improved my skills. I wrote cover letters that grabbed attention, and I was invited to interview for three of the five positions I applied for.
I was determined to share my hard-earned lessons with other pharmacy students to save them the heartache I endured.
I created an online course to help pharmacy students write memorable cover letters that will capture the decision-makers’ attention and earn them interviews. My 12-module course, Cover Letter Mastery, is self-paced and adaptable so that you can consume it the way that fits best for you.
The course includes interviews with RPDs, video lessons, guides, and worksheets, and the tuition gives you lifetime access to the content. I’ve worked to keep the price manageable for students, and if you apply what you learn in the course, you’ll more than makeup for your money over the course of your career.
The clock is ticking on the 2019 recruiting year, and the competition is fierce. Register for Cover Letter Mastery now to get insider information about writing a cover letter that will get you noticed and land you interviews.
Alex is the Founder of The Happy PharmD. He loves anime, his family, and video games, but not in that order.