Crafting an Impactful Dietitian Cover Letter
I’ve been hiring dietitians, interns, and students for my entire career, and I’ve read my fair share of cover letters. Many things annoy me, and few things impress me. I typically encourage job seekers not to stress about the cover letter because your experience and references are usually the most important part of the job application for a team or a school. However, there are several occasions when a cover letter could make or break you, so this is not an area to overlook if you want to land your dream dietitian job.
When A Cover Letter Matters
When you are a new RD, switching careers, or have minimal experience, you need a great cover letter that showcases the skills you’ve learned that translate to this position.
If you are switching careers from, say, clinical dietitian to sports nutrition, consider going into further detail on a career objective in your cover letter to bridge the gap for the reader from your clinical dietitian resume. They need clarification as to why you have applied to this job, and by addressing it, you can show them that you have valuable experience that aligns with their job description and makes you an unconventional perfect match. Point out the similarities!
Let’s face it – sports nutrition is a very competitive field. If you have a similar educational background and relevant experience to the other applicants, an unimpressive cover letter won’t get the hiring manager’s attention. The best way to write an impressionable cover letter isn’t to be different or flashy – it is to focus on the skills section and what you are good at and to let your personality shine.
The Recent Grad Cover Letter
Hiring managers can see from your enclosed resume that you don’t have much experience – and that’s ok. But don’t just repeat your resume, or you will appear inexperienced. Instead, show them that even with limited work experience, you are capable of this job and will be a valuable addition to their staff. Grab keywords from the job description’s bullet points, focusing primarily on the “soft skills,” usually at the end.
“As Kappa Delta Finance Chair, I managed a six-figure budget, tracking expenses and accounts for five different areas, creating yearly projections based on usage, and providing advisors and leadership with practical solutions to accommodate our needs. Since I was able to manage the kitchen budget for 150 college girls while overseeing the endowment for our scholarship fund, I know I can organize the nutrition budget for men’s and women’s basketball!”
The New RD Cover Letter
“As a former student-athlete who competed and traveled 15 weekends out of the school year, I know the hectic schedule and fast-paced, pressure-filled environment that is being in athletics. I became adept at finishing homework on planes, thrived on getting up at 5 am for a grueling workout before rushing to an exam, and navigated a schedule that included classes, practices, SAAC meetings, and volunteering with local nutrition programs. What I lack in experience, I make up for in knowledge. I know this job will be a grind, but I’m so excited to be on the side of the team where I’m valued for my nutritional science knowledge and not my vertical jump height!”
The Career Change Cover Letter
If you are applying for a job where you may be missing relevant experience desired, address it in a positive light. For example, say you are a dietitian who has worked in a small, rural hospital system for your whole career. You are now applying to a Level 1 Trauma Center. Rather than ignoring your lack of trauma experience, acknowledge this new challenge and provide details on other large-scale challenges you have worked through and your willingness to learn and grow.
“I’ve worked through many challenges in various settings in my career, notably reworking all hospital menus to accommodate ever-changing COVID-19 protocols in different counties in our rural health system. Working with a trauma center will present a unique challenge I am excited to learn more about. I am used to being the sole dietitian at my hospital and can work quickly and efficiently.
I look forward to learning from a team of dietitians!”
The Switching Specialities Cover Letter
For a dietitian that has only worked with soccer and is now applying for a job working with tennis, address the parallels between the sports, the differences in nutritional needs, and how this change allows you to work differently.
While I have loved my time as a large sports dietitian, I am looking forward to focusing on a smaller number of athletes and providing individualized hydration and nutrition plans for the specific needs of each athlete.
How to Structure A Dietitian Cover Letter
The typical cover letter expert will tell you that the first paragraph should grab the hiring manager’s attention and explain what job you are applying for and why. Easy. The following section summarizes your relevant experience, knowledge, and skills. The final paragraph shows your enthusiasm for the position, thanks them for their time, and provides contact details for how they can reach you for the next steps. While this framework will suffice, let’s talk about what this looks like specifically for a dietitian.
Highlight Your Skills
If you can’t think of any relevant skills related to the job description, focus on “soft skills.” These are typically located toward the bottom of the job description and are more abstract descriptions of the type of person the company is looking for. Look for words like “problem solver,” “teamwork,” “integrity,” and “go-getter.” Find areas in your educational background or previous positions that mirror the soft skills listed in the job and highlight those in your response.
“I love that soccer requires a lot of carbs – the first foods I ate in America. I love that it reminds me of my home country. And I love that soccer has such a diverse population of athletes. As an immigrant, I know first-hand how difficult it is to adapt to new foods and portions here in the United States, and I believe that I will relate to athletes going through this transition. I hope to incorporate my knowledge of human nutrition with a cultural understanding of food to create meal plans and menus that fit the unique needs of these athletes.”
Let Your Personality Shine
Supervisors can teach most job skills to the right person, and often fitting in with the team and organizational culture can be more important than having extensive work experience. People want to like their coworkers! And as an employee, you are more likely to be happy and successful if the work culture aligns with your values. So let your personality shine and share your personal (relevant) experiences.
“Growing up in a refugee camp, we spent our nights after school working to improve our English, carb-loading on the rice and bread we were given, and watching the only sport we understood from back home: soccer. During these early years, it was difficult to lead a healthy lifestyle, and it was even harder to envision a day when I would have a bachelor’s degree. But I managed to do both, and now my next step is getting a job I dreamed of all those years ago: working with soccer athletes.”
“I love that soccer requires a lot of carbs – my favorite food. And I love that it reminds me of my home country, and has such a diverse population of athletes. As an immigrant, I know first-hand how difficult it is to adapt to new foods and portions here in the United States, and I believe that I will relate to athletes going through this transition. I hope to incorporate my knowledge of human nutrition with a cultural understanding of food to create meal plans and menus that fit the unique needs of these athletes.”
Specify Your Career Objective
If you are switching careers from clinical dietitian to sports nutrition, consider going into further detail on a career objective in your cover letter to bridge the gap for the reader from your clinical dietitian resume. They need clarification as to why you have applied to this job, and by addressing it, you can show them that you have valuable experience that aligns with their job description and drives you an unconventional perfect match. Point out the similarities!
“As an outpatient pediatric clinical dietitian, I have years of experience using nutrition education to improve overall health. I am adept at making complex nutritional concepts relatable and digestible, especially for teens. One of the proudest moments of my career was helping a high school runner, and her parents understand that limiting her food intake was negatively affecting her performance and could affect her bone health down the road. They were open to learning but confused by coaches and trainers providing conflicting information.
I got great satisfaction from working with this patient, so I began to lean toward sports dietetics as a career. Since that patient, I have been working to gain more experience in the field through shadowing and continuing education. I am interested in your available position because I could learn from your experienced and accomplished staff. And because you mention working with eating disorders, of which I am adept, I could bring clinical sports nutrition expertise to your team while learning the day-to-day aspects of performance nutrition from all of you.”
Dietitian Cover Letter Mistakes
Let’s face it – dietetics, especially sports nutrition, is very competitive. If you have a similar educational background and relevant experience to the other applicants, an unimpressive cover letter won’t get the hiring manager’s attention. The best way to write an impressionable cover letter isn’t to be flashy – it is to focus on the skills section and what you are good at and to let your personality shine.
It’s tempting to try to grab the reader’s attention with a fairytale hook. But as a job seeker, use caution when saying this is your “dream job” or the “perfect fit” for you. It can come off as feigned, exaggerated, and, frankly, cookie-cutter. “I am so excited to see my dream job posted!”
But what if it truly is your dream job? I had a cute and quirky antidote when applying for my actual dream job. I talked about how I had a personal connection with the school as a kid, had met the hiring manager/supervising dietitian as a high schooler, and had told the dietitian that it was my dream job years before it was posted.
How can you determine if your story or “hook” should be included? Ask yourself, is this sincere, relevant, and believable? If so, it may be a valuable addition to your cover letter. In my case, I was able to reference the actual camp I attended as a kid as proof it actually happened; the person reading the cover letter was there and referenced by name, and it was relevant to the job I was applying for because that experience led me to research the career. Plus, it was a cute and memorable story that was unique to me, setting me apart from the other candidates. Unless you have a foolproof story, leave it out.
Leave Your Fandom Out
I swear every other letter I read has someone claiming they grew up a die-hard fan of my team or school, even though they live across the country with no ties to our area. Also, social media exists, and a quick check can prove you follow another team closely. I know you are trying to connect with the Director of Nutrition, but there are other ways.
And even if you did grow up, if you insist on including it, be specific to separate yourself from everyone who claims to be a fan. And I don’t know why we even feel we must say we love this team or sport – fandom doesn’t equal qualified. Save your paper space for something more compelling.
Don’t Get the Company Name Wrong
This should go without saying but don’t misconstrue the school/team/company name or a part of the identity of your potential employer. I will overlook a grammar or spelling mistake, but if you send me a letter meant for another team, it shows you spent more time on them, and I’ll read that as you don’t want my job as badly. Just as bad is misspelling or using the improper name. For example, saying Pittsburg instead of Pittsburgh when referring to the city where the Steelers reside. Pittsburg is a city in California, not in Pennsylvania.
While it may seem like an innocent mistake, hiring managers have seen people apply for jobs without knowing the state the University was in. Referring to the home of Gators as Florida University rather than the University of Florida or confusing Michigan State and the University of Michigan. Those things matter to the people within those organizations, so do a quick overview of the company website and make sure you accurately represent the place you are discussing.
Don’t claim they are your perfect match.
While the interview is equally about you finding out if this company is a good fit for you and then deciding if you are the right person for them, the cover letter is entirely about selling yourself. At this point, the reader does not care if you think this job is the perfect fit for YOU. They care about them. A great cover letter will show them how you align with what they are searching for and how you solve the problem that they have.
Here is a great way to do this. Print out the job posting and highlight all the qualifications in the skills section of the job description that you excel at. Next, create a document and split it into two columns. In one column, create bullet points for each of the skills or qualifications of the job that you possess. In the next column, match up one of your work experiences or an aspect from your educational background that illustrates your ability to do that skill. Then, make sure you incorporate your relevant skills into the body of your cover letter.
For example, if the job posting calls for “strategic planning of community nutrition programs,” you could say something like this:
“In my previous role, I was involved in strategic planning through the creation of a program on leading a healthy lifestyle to prevent chronic diseases. I saw the program from concept to execution: I wrote the program proposal, worked with public health team members to ensure the continuity of the message, designed the nutritional education aspect of the program, and implemented the program city-wide in 2019.”
Don’t leave anything up to interpretation.
When there is a question in your resume, whether that is a break in work experience, a job in a different field, a confusing graduation date or school schedule, or several other things, address this in your cover letter so your potential employer doesn’t write you off.
For example, your resume says that you are graduating with your master’s degree in two years, and the full-time job you are applying for is in a different city than your school. The hiring manager might ignore your application, thinking you didn’t understand the job posting. They might think you are unable to relocate for the job. Acknowledge it clearly in your cover letter and say something like this:
“I recently completed my first semester of my online master’s program and have moved to X city to pursue more opportunities in my field. My classes will complement my work as I will be learning the newest research in the classroom at night and be able to implement this in my work during the day.”
Now the hiring manager understands your location and your goals and that you designed your degree to gain experience. They also know you will be in school studying nutritional science, which will be beneficial as you can help the rest of the staff stay cutting-edge with current research.
Go Write It!
How are you feeling? Ready to nail this cover letter? Just remember that you don’t have to have extensive experience or flashy titles. You have to showcase that you are the best person for their position. And once you nail the cover letter, be sure to check out my tips on sports interview questions.
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