Cheeky Logo
Ready To Transition Into Industry?
Apply To Book A Free Call With Our Transition Specialist Team

4 Essential Components Of A Powerful Cover Letter

Dr. Rancourt is an esteemed professor of oncology, biochemistry and molecular biology, and medical genetics at the University of Calgary.

His lab is conducting exciting research into new methods for expanding mouse and human pluripotent stem cells.

And, beyond his research, Dr. Rancourt is highly regarded by his students.

The members of his lab have said that he enjoys helping PhDs find jobs that they love, whether that be in academia or in industry.

He has learned a lot about the PhD job search by helping his students and postdocs find exciting and fulfilling positions.

Through this experience, he has developed an expertise in getting PhDs hired.

And, he is passing on some of that knowledge here.

Dr. Rancourt shares his insights into what a cover letter should be and why your cover letter is an essential part of your job application.

Why An Excellent Cover Letter Is Essential

There are typically hundreds of applicants vying for the job you are applying for.

The specific number of applicants will vary depending on the type of job.

Ere Media reported 250 resumes submitted per corporate job opening, but this number can be in the thousands when applying to top companies.

You are just one application among many, many applications.

And, before a hiring manager puts your application on the interview pile, she will review your cover letter.

The hiring manager’s time is precious.

Her goal is to triage 95% of the applications in one sitting.

She will use any excuse to reject your application.

A too-long resume, a resume lacking results, a list of your irrelevant publications, or a verbose, uninteresting cover letter are all reasons for rejection.

For example, Forbes reported that 48% of non-customized cover letters are rejected and 49% were rejected if they contained a typo or spelling error.

It’s a tough situation: you feel you are perfect for the job.

But, how will you distinguish yourself from the pack?

How will you put a smile on her face, so that she chooses you for that deeper review?

How do you convince her you are worthy of an interview?

It’s not enough to merely list credentials and experience.

The cover letter is the elevator pitch of your job application.

You have one page to convince the hiring manager that you are the best candidate.

You have to make your cover letter persuasive.

Persuasive communication needs emotion.

You want the hiring manager to feel intrigued enough to put your resume on the top of the 5% pile.

Top 4 Components Of A Persuasive Cover Letter

As a PhD, you are a highly qualified job candidate.

But, your PhD and a list of your skills alone are not enough to earn you an interview.

You need to demonstrate that you are personable, confident, and the right fit for the job and the company — all before you’ve even met anyone in person.

Your written communication is key.

Your resume is important, but your cover letter is how you can set yourself apart.

A persuasive and well-written cover letter are essential to landing the industry job you want.

Here are 4 essential components to have in your cover letter if you want to get hired…

1. Thesis statement with an emotional trigger.

You cover letter is the place for you to argue your case: why are you the best candidate?

Like in any form of argumentation, you need a thesis statement.

You need to make it clear why you have written the cover letter and highlight the main reasons you are the best candidate for the job.

But, you don’t want a dry, boring thesis statement.

In your cover letter, your thesis statement is about you.

A dry, boring thesis statement implies that you are dry and boring… not a good way to get hired.

Instead, your statement should be concise and trigger an emotion.

See this example: “I believe that I am the best person for your position because of X, Y, and Z.”

X and Y can be technical, but Z should trigger emotion — something that makes you stand out.

Have a hook — something that entices the hiring manager to pay attention.

In the example above, X and Y are examples of your technical expertise that demonstrate you can do the job, and the Z is that something special, the thing that sets you apart.

People make decisions based on emotion, and your cover letter should pull on the hiring manager’s emotions.

Make them want to get to know you better.

2. Very clear statement of how you can add value.

You are a PhD.

You have accomplished great things, but just listing these accolades is not engaging.

Instead, your cover letter should showcase your personality.

Demonstrate that you are interesting, creative, and highly motivated, without using these words.

Instead of telling them about your skills, show them.

Do you have any accolades? Any attention-grabbing gigs?

What about sales, management, committee or planning experience?

Have you ever received praise from a customer or co-worker, or any relevant awards?

What about exciting hobbies?

Any interesting clubs or organizations?

Do you work with any machines or systems, besides the usual?

What kind of problems are you good at solving?

Present examples from your unique life experiences can make you stand out.

Explain how these experiences have shaped you as a person.

Demonstrate how you could be “a resource” or even “a resource-broker” for them.

Make it clear that you are more than a list of skills. Use your cover letter to show that you would be an interesting and valuable addition to their team.

3. Call-to-action.

Now that you have gotten the hiring manager’s attention and convinced them that you are the best candidate, you need to tell them what to do next.

Your cover letter should include a call-to-action.

Just like the Internet, with all those buttons asking you to “click here!”, you need to tell the hiring manager what action they should take next.

This is where you ask for the job.

But, you need to back up your ask with evidence.

So, you should restate your thesis statement, only differently.

Demonstrate succinctly, using both pathos and logos, why you are the right candidate for the position.

Finish up your cover letter by suggesting next steps and including a personal closing.

For example, your personal closing could be a reiteration of your hook.

4. Have a strong, professional online presence.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s only your cover letter and resume that a hiring manager looks at before deciding whether to call you in for an interview.

Hiring managers will look at candidates on the Internet.

It is essential that you have a strong, positive web presence.

Create profiles for important platforms, especially LinkedIn.

Make sure your LinkedIn profile is optimized and looks very professional.

Your online presence should convey the same messaging that you put in your cover letter.

Remove anything from your online profiles that does not support your messaging.

Obviously, remove anything unprofessional, but also ensure that your professional profiles support the persuasive claim you are making in your cover letter.

If you are claiming to be an expert medical writer, but your LinkedIn profile says you are a research scientist, this is a problem.

Make sure your messaging aligns.

Third-party testimonials are also powerful decision factors.

Make sure your endorsements and references are valid.

A great way to get endorsements is to give an endorsement to a colleague, and then ask if they will return the favor.

It’s also a good idea to expand your presence on the Internet.

Participate in professional forums, curate professional news boards, start a blog, and tweet.

Consider using video.

People like to see you, not just read you.

Finally, help hiring managers compile all your experience by presenting them with an online resume.

A good way to have an online resume is to host it on your personal, professional website.

Your cover letter is where you must persuade the hiring manager that you deserve an interview. This is your written elevator pitch. Use a clear thesis statement with an emotional trigger, state the value that you will bring to the company, and end your cover letter with a call-to-action. In addition to writing your cover letter, you need to become a 21st century artisan. Stand out from the crowd with a powerful and professional online presence. If your value proposition is strong, employers will come to you with job offers.

If you’re ready to start your transition into industry, you can apply to book a free Transition Call with our founder Isaiah Hankel, PhD or one of our Transition Specialists. Apply to book a Transition Call here.

Book a Transition Call
Get Free Job Search Content Weekly


Derrick Rancourt holds a PhD in Biochemistry. He is an entrepreneurial researcher who is passionate about training and professional development.

Derrick Rancourt, PhD

Similar Articles

Does Your PhD Resume Spell A Bad Culture Fit?

Does Your PhD Resume Spell A Bad Culture Fit?

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

One of the biggest reasons that I left academia was the constant negativity.  Instead of collaboration, I was pitted against my fellow PhDs. The system forced us to compete against one another. I couldn’t look to my advisors for support either. It was more trouble than it was worth to even get them to make time, and in the end, their “advice” was little more than common sense. And that’s to say nothing of the wrath I’d face if I picked the wrong time to speak up or advocate for my research. I persisted, though, and looked forward to applying…

Robots Ate Your Precious Technical Skills. Focus On These Transferable Skills Instead

Robots Ate Your Precious Technical Skills. Focus On These Transferable Skills Instead

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I haven’t even graduated yet and my career is already being phased out by AI. Am I going to need a separate degree in machine learning to stand out from the competition?  How can I compete in a data-focused industry when software can do most of my job faster and for far less? Messages like these come to me every day. ChatGPT sent shockwaves through every industry when developer OpenAI unveiled the software to the general public in 2022. Within 5 days of launch, it had already seen 1 million users. I work closely with PhDs on a daily basis.…

The Power Of The Functional Resume: A Game-Changer for PhDs Seeking Industry Roles

The Power Of The Functional Resume: A Game-Changer for PhDs Seeking Industry Roles

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Sometimes you’re too close to a situation to really understand it. That was definitely the case for me when it came to my industry resume.  As a PhD leaving academia, it took me a long time to understand that I was wasting my time submitting an academic CV to industry employers. It wasn’t until I was hired in an industry role that I understood there was a specific resume format for people like me. When I had a chance to shadow an industry recruiter, that’s when I really understood the goal of a resume – the zoomed-out view that I…

How Long Does It Take To Get Hired As A PhD?

How Long Does It Take To Get Hired As A PhD?

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I spent a lot of time being disappointed during my job search; things were taking longer than they should have.  At least, that’s what I thought. The longer I didn’t hear back from a recruiter or hiring manager for a job I really wanted, the more jobs I’d apply to and the more confused my job search would become.  I also didn’t realize that recruiters and hiring managers would trade notes and become confused by my frantic frequent applications to as many jobs as I could find.  What I didn’t know was that my impatience was costing me potential jobs…

Clinch The Interview With 6 Can’t-Miss Cover Letter Strategies

Clinch The Interview With 6 Can’t-Miss Cover Letter Strategies

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

When I first started my job search, I was not a fan of cover letters.  I’d even go so far as to say that I hated them. But I ran into a friend of mine about a year after I got my PhD. We got to talking. I told him that it had been almost 12 months since I graduated and I had only had a few interviews.  He said to send him my resume and cover letter and he’d take a look for me. Cover letter? I didn’t have a cover letter, I told him. And he told me…

How To Supercharge The Search Ranking Of Your LinkedIn Profile & Resume

How To Supercharge The Search Ranking Of Your LinkedIn Profile & Resume

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

You probably know that you should always target your resume when you apply for an open position and that you should add keywords related to your desired position throughout the sections of your LinkedIn profile. But do you actually know what targeting a resume or LinkedIn profile involves? Most PhDs think that they just need to look at the skills mentioned in a job posting and sprinkle a couple of them throughout their professional profile. This is the bare minimum.  If you want to ensure your LinkedIn profile always comes at the top of searches and your resume always makes…

How PhDs Should Structure Their Industry Resume Bullet Points

How PhDs Should Structure Their Industry Resume Bullet Points

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

If you’ve been reading Cheeky Scientist blogs for some time, you probably know that the best way to get an industry job is by applying through a referral.  That way, you can skip the resume submission step and move straight into a phone screen. So, you’re probably thinking that you shouldn’t waste time on a targeted resume for each position you apply to. But here’s the reality: even though you shouldn’t rely on resumes to get your foot in the door, employers will still want to see your resume and LinkedIn profile before they interview you. I was recently talking…

How To Write A Convincing Cover Letter In 3 Steps

How To Write A Convincing Cover Letter In 3 Steps

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Setting up a job search application can be time consuming.  Especially if you have set up the right job search strategy and are applying to several positions at the same time.  This leads many PhDs to try to cut out steps of the job application that seem dispensable. For example, the cover letter if the job posting doesn’t specifically asks for one. This is a misconception, you should always include a cover letter with your job applications.  How formal the cover letter is will depend on the situation, but taking the time to introduce yourself and your candidacy will separate…

A Complete Guide To PhD-Level Industry Resume Formats And Sections

A Complete Guide To PhD-Level Industry Resume Formats And Sections

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Your PhD-level industry resume is one of the key components of your professional job search profile. You should make sure that it is well crafted and accurately represents you as an industry professional. The PhD-level industry resume is a marketing document that will help you pitch yourself, it is not a lengthy CV, full of irrelevant information. A well crafted PhD-level industry resume will show recruiters and hiring managers that you know who you are professionally and are a valuable job candidate. The following story comes from a member who recently transitioned and illustrates the importance of understanding the goal…

Top Industry Career eBooks

63 Best Industry Positions For PhDs

63 Best Industry Positions For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD & Arunodoy Sur, PhD

Learn about the best 63 industry careers for PhDs (regardless of your academic background). In this eBook, you will gain insight into the most popular, highest-paying jobs for PhDs – all of which will allow you to do meaningful work AND get paid well for it.

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel

The LinkedIn tips & strategies within have helped PhDs from every background get hired into top industry careers.

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Learn how to craft the perfect industry resume to attract employers. In this eBook for PhDs, you will get access to proven resume templates, learn how to structure your bullet points, and discover which keywords industry employers want to see most on PhD resumes.