So, you've identified a job you want. Now you need to take all the steps you can to get it. First impressions matter, so starting off on the right foot sets you up to stand out from the crowd and secure an interview. Being savvy about when to use a cover letter and when to use a letter of inquiry (LOI) can help.

If you are responding to a job opening that was posted, a well written cover letter included with your resume can go a long way in getting the attention of a hiring manager. On the other hand, if you know where you want to work, but they have not posted a job opening, that doesn't mean there are no opportunities. Let them know your interest with a letter of inquiry. They may have job opening that are not advertised, may have an opening coming up, you may uncover openings in other departments that may be hiring, or they may keep track of interesting
candidates should an opening arise. This is where a letter of inquiry can help set you apart from the competition.

The elements contained within these two letters are similar. They only differ in the following:

1. LOIs are created when you want to find job opportunities that have not been advertised, while cover letters are written in response to a posted job opening.

2. In a LOI, you explain why you are writing the letter and elaborate about why the healthcare institution is appealing to you. In a cover letter, you explain why you are the best person for the job you are applying for.

3. You conclude your job LOI with a request for an informational interview so that the recipient will get a chance to know more about you. While in a cover letter, you close it by encouraging the reader to peruse your resume.

Writing Your LOI and Cover Letter

First impressions can make all the difference, so give careful thought and planning to writing your LOI or cover letter. Here is a list of things to consider before creating your LOI or cover letter:

1. Do some research about the healthcare institution you're sending your letter to, including its mission and vision statements. This will help align your letter's voice to what they may be looking for in potential candidates. This information is usually available on the healthcare institution's website or official social media account.

2.  If possible, find a contact from the healthcare institution and address the letter to them rather than using the generic "to whom it may concern" greeting. This can be the manager of a unit you want to work in, or to the facilities recruiters. In larger facilities they may have recruiters that specialize in different roles, so find out who the recruiter is for nursing.

3. Note your qualities and skill sets that align with the healthcare institution's mission, vision, and culture, so you are ready to highlight them in your letter.

4. Use your network to learn more and target your message. Talk with your fellow nurses, nursing students, professors, even friends and community members to try and find someone who works at the facility and is willing to give you insights that can tailor your inquiry towards success.

Once you have completed your research, you’re ready to create your job letter of inquiry. Here
are some guidelines to help you.

1. Keep the message short and concise. Start with a brief introduction of yourself and how you learned about the institution or the job posting and why you want to work there. Follow up by highlighting your expertise, as well as your qualities and skills. Don't forget to include what makes you an asset to their team.

2. Create a call to action towards the end of the letter. Close the letter by requesting an informational phone interview or in-person meeting to discuss employment possibilities if you are writing an LOI. For the cover letter, ask the recipient to read your resume submitted along with it.

Healthcare institutions consider more than skills and experience, they also care about attitude and values of their applicants. Hence, adding a little personality to your application can help increase your chances of getting hired. It can also help employers determine if your attitude can fit in with the organization's culture. So, let them know who you are, but remember to keep a professional and respectful tone.

Remember: hiring managers see lots and lots of resumes. Your best bet is to stand apart from the crowd, and a well written cover letter or letter of inquiry can do that for you. So, it’s worth the effort!