4 Essential Components Of A Powerful Cover Letter
Written By: Derrick E. Rancourt, PhD
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.
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.
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.
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.
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