Cheeky Logo
Ready To Get Hired?
Apply To Book A Free Call With Our Transition Specialist Team

How To Write A Convincing Cover Letter In 3 Steps

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 you from other job candidates and show decision makers that you are a person, not just a resume.

I was recently talking to a member who transitioned a couple of months ago and has now participated in hiring committees for their company. This is what they had to share:

Although not all hiring managers read cover letters or consider them as part of their decision procress, it’s always better to include one with the application.

For those who care about it, receiving a resume without a cover letter means the application goes into the trash and many hiring managers like to have your point of view of what you bring to the table.

So, when in doubt, always submit a cover letter, worst case scenario no one will read it, but it can give you a unique opportunity to to highlight why you are a better fit for the role when compared to other applicants.

A Convincing Cover Letter Will Get You A Phone Screen

There’s a common misconception that you either need a very formal cover letter or no cover letter at all. You always need a cover letter, even if it’s just an email presenting your candidacy.

A career builder survey of 1,500 recruiters and hiring managers found that 29% of employers will reject an application if it doesn’t have a cover letter.

It’s also important to spend time customizing your cover letter and making sure it’s well written.

Forbes reported that 48% of cover letters are rejected if they are not customized and 49% are rejected if they have grammar mistakes or typos. So, take the time to make a well-crafted cover letter.

Your goal with the cover letter should be to convince the reader that you can accomplish their goals. In other words, that you are the best fit for their open position and that you can bring value to the company.

There are three ways to submit a cover letter.

The first and most formal one is as a separate document, structured as an actual letter in PDF format. This is ideal if the position specifically asks for a cover letter.

The second option is to send it in the same document as your resume. In this case, the cover letter would be the first page of a three-page document. 

You can do that if you are applying through a job portal that only allows you to upload one file when submitting your application.

Finally, it can be the body of an email with your resume attached. This will be the more likely scenario if you have been networking and generating referrals.

You will probably send an email to someone you were introduced to after an informational interview.

3 Steps To Writing A Convincing Cover Letter

Now that you know that a cover letter is important, you’re probably wondering how you write one. 

First, it must be a standard business letter format, and this is country specific. For Australia, UK, and Europe, it should be A4 and for the United States, it should be US letter. 

Second, it should be only one page with three short paragraphs. If it’s longer, you need to cut it down. 

Let’s take a look at the information you should include in each paragraph of your cover letter.

Start by addressing your cover letter

The first paragraph of your cover letter should only be one sentence, two at the most.

It should be addressed to the right person and it should introduce your referral and express your enthusiasm about applying for the position and working at the company.

The first paragraph might be short, but it contains a lot of crucial information when it comes to establishing your credibility.

It should always be addressed to the hiring manager for the position. If you use a generic salutation, such as “to whom it may concern,” you are saying that you are too lazy to find out the name of the actual person who will read your letter.

There are different strategies you can use to find the name of the hiring manager.

The first one is to call the company. Nearly every company that you could apply to for a job can be found online and they will have a contact number.

Ask to talk to the hiring manager responsible for the position at hand. You should at least get a lead on who is responsible for the hiring process.

The second way you can find the name of a hiring manager is through networking. This is the ideal scenario.

You want to network and set up informational interviews with people working at your company or companies of interest. 

If you don’t know anybody at your company of interest, find a secondary or tertiary connection and ask for an introduction.

This will ensure that you have insider information to figure out who is the person responsible for the job posting. 

You can also find the name of a hiring manager by reading the job posting carefully. 

It is often the case that when job candidates read a job posting, they only skimm it to find the relevant skills for the position and they don’t look for the contact information of the person posting the job, but it’s there. 

Finally, you can do an online search to find the hiring manager or person posting a job advert.

Once you address your cover letter, you need to add the name and title of the person who referred you for the job. This is probably someone you had an informational interview with and let you know about the position.

This information is very important as it will help you create report with the hiring manager by showing there is someone working at their company – someone they probably know – who is willing to vouch for you.

Finally, you want to make it clear that you’re applying for a specific position. Very often, your cover letter will be the first thing that a decision maker reads. So, the first paragraph is a great place to introduce yourself.

Below is an example of what the first paragraph of a cover letter should look like:

[Name], [title] at [company]

[Name of your referral, title, and company] encouraged me to apply for [open position]. I am writing in response to their recommendation because I think I would be a great fit for this position and I am very interested in the work being done at [company name].

In the next paragraphs, you will explain why you are such a good fit for the position at hand.

Continue by explaining why you are a good fit

The aim of the second paragraph is to show how your experience matches the role you’re applying to.

This paragraph should focus on how your previous experience will allow you to achieve each of the points covered in the job description. Leave out any information that is not directly related to that specific job.

You can present this information in two ways. The more formal is by writing a conversational paragraph where you explain how your previous experience relates to the needs of the employer.

Alternatively, you can skip the second paragraph altogether and replace it with a two-column table. The left column should list the requirements of the job description and the right column should list your qualifications and previous experience.
This is called the T-format cover letter and it gives you a good opportunity to visually show why you are the best fit for the position.

Conclude by highlighting the value you bring to the table

The third and final paragraph should focus on the value you’re bringing to the company.

While the second paragraph should focus on your experience and your technical expertise, the third paragraph should focus on your tranferable skills and why you are a good fit for the company culture.

Focusing on your transferable skills and how the company culture matches your values will show that you can contribute to the company and will adapt to their work environment. In other words, that you will be a good fit in all fronts, not just a capable employee.

Recruiters and hiring managers want to hire candidates who align with the company culture. So, this is a great way to end your cover letter.

Concluding Remarks

Many PhDs think that cover letters are optional or a thing of the past, but in reality they are an important part of a job application as they provide an unique opportunity to differentiate yourself and show why you are the right candidate for the position. A cover letter should only be one page and contain three paragraphs. The first paragraph should be addressed to an actual person, introduce your referral, and make it clear that you want to apply for a specific position. The second paragraph should show how your previous experience and technical skills match the job description, showing that you would be a capable candidate for the role. Finally, the third paragraph should focus on your tranferable skills and how your values align with the company culture, showing that you would add value to the company if they hire you. Make sure to always submit a targeted cover letter so you can make a great first impression.

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

ABOUT ISAIAH HANKEL, PHD

CEO, CHEEKY SCIENTIST & SUCCESS MENTOR TO PHDS

Dr. Isaiah Hankel is the Founder and CEO of Cheeky Scientist. His articles, podcasts and trainings are consumed annually by millions of PhDs and other professionals in hundreds of different countries. He has helped PhDs transition into top companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, Intel, Dow Chemical, BASF, Merck, Genentech, Home Depot, Nestle, Hilton, SpaceX, Tesla, Syngenta, the CDC, UN and Ford Foundation.

Dr. Hankel has published 3X bestselling books and his latest book, The Power of a PhD, debuted on the Barnes & Noble bestseller list. His methods for getting PhDs hired have been featured in the Harvard Business Review, Nature, Forbes, The Guardian, Fast Company, Entrepreneur Magazine and Success Magazine.

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Similar Articles

Your Job Search a Disaster So Far? Here's How to Clean Up the Mess (and Land the Job You Deserve)

Your Job Search a Disaster So Far? Here's How to Clean Up the Mess (and Land the Job You Deserve)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“I’ve had several first-round interviews, Isaiah, but no callbacks,” a frustrated PhD candidate recently confided in me.  “Do you have any idea why?” I asked.  Everyone’s job search is unique, of course, so there’s no one answer to this question. But there are two that I hear more than most.  One is: “Employers say they’re looking for someone with more experience.”  The other? “Employers keep asking me why I’m leaving academia.”  Put another way, these two reasons are a reflection of PhDs being seen as either underqualified or overqualified.  The transition from academia to industry can be a minefield, and…

How PhDs Can Avoid The Overqualified Label To Get Hired

How PhDs Can Avoid The Overqualified Label To Get Hired

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“We regret to inform you that we will not be moving forward with your application due to concerns that your qualifications exceed those required for the role.  We feel it would not be a good fit. Thank you for applying.”  Oof, that’s part of a rejection email a PhD sent me. An employer had sent it to them after the first interview.  Another PhD told me this recently… “I feel like I’m both overqualified and underqualified for the jobs I apply to Isaiah.”  Which do you feel is more of a problem for you? I asked.  “At first I thought…

How To Answer “Why Are You Leaving Academia?” (& 4 Scientific Ways To Convince Employers To Hire You) 

How To Answer “Why Are You Leaving Academia?” (& 4 Scientific Ways To Convince Employers To Hire You) 

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“‘Why do you want to work here more than anywhere else? And why are you leaving academia?’ Those are the questions I got stuck on, Isaiah.  I told them why I liked their company, mainly because it was aligned with my values, but I also wanted to be fair and ethical so I told them that I was considering other companies. Then I explained that academia was no longer a good fit because I wanted to do more than write grants all day.”  “Okay, I replied, anything else? What did you say after that?” “I asked them a few clarifying…

Should You Apply To More Than One Job At A Company? (& 3 Other Tough Job Search Questions Answered)

Should You Apply To More Than One Job At A Company? (& 3 Other Tough Job Search Questions Answered)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“Isaiah, I applied to ThermoFisher two weeks ago and a hiring manager got in touch with me and I had my first interview…. But then a second hiring manager reached out to me about another job I applied to there.  I started talking to this second manager and they asked if I applied to any other positions there.  I couldn’t lie so I told them about the other job and the other hiring manager.  Now, neither of the hiring managers will get back to me.  What should I do?”  This is what a PhD told me over the phone last…

How LinkedIn Ranks Job Seekers With PhDs, EdDs & Other Degrees

How LinkedIn Ranks Job Seekers With PhDs, EdDs & Other Degrees

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“Be real Isaiah, there’s not a government bureau keeping track of how our resumes perform.”  This is what a frustrated job seeker said to me recently.  “What do you mean I have a reputation score?” they asked.  “Of course there’s not a bureau dedicated to this, at least not yet” I said.  “But you absolutely are being scored and ranked” I went on, “and your ranking is used to indicate how reputable you are as a job seeker.”  This is what I’ve explained to countless people looking for a job in today’s job market, most of whom were getting initial…

How The Academic PhD Job Market Was Destroyed

How The Academic PhD Job Market Was Destroyed

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“I spent over a year looking for a job in academia and flew to multiple interviews. I didn’t get one offer.” A PhD told me this recently and many other PhDs have told me similar stories.  Of course, the stories involve more than just looking for a job for a year.  They involve living on a meager academic budget, trying to support themselves and their families, often in very expensive cities where many of the biggest universities are located.  They involve decisions to never go on a vacation, to feed their kids cheaper, less healthy food, and to work all…

Give Yourself The Gift Of Leaving Academia Forever

Give Yourself The Gift Of Leaving Academia Forever

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

My last year in academia, I didn’t have enough money to fly home for Christmas. So I spent it in Iowa City, mostly alone.  I was broke (of course) so I decided to shovel snow out of driveways for $10 per driveway. I remember thinking how ridiculous it was to be a PhD shoveling snow for money. “What I wouldn’t give to have a better job”, I thought.  That was the gift I wanted for Christmas and the holidays.  A better job.  Not to be a student or a postdoc or an academic PhD getting paid less than I was…

The Ideal Keyword Density For Targeting Your PhD Resume To An Industry Job Posting

The Ideal Keyword Density For Targeting Your PhD Resume To An Industry Job Posting

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Writing a resume for an industry job is one of the biggest sticking points I see with PhDs entering the job market.  What worked even a year ago is not working today due to recent and rapidly accelerating advances in Applicant Tracking Systems.  These systems, called ATS or just AI today, are software tools used by companies to filter resumes.  They scan for specific keywords related to the job role, abilities, credentials, and qualities desired in a candidate.  As a PhD seeking very competitive roles, including relevant keywords in your resume is essential to pass through these systems and get…

AI Is Replacing Recruiters. Here’s How PhD Job Seekers Should Adapt

AI Is Replacing Recruiters. Here’s How PhD Job Seekers Should Adapt

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“I had a recruiter reach out to me, Isaiah, and after I gave them my resume and answered their questions, they never got back to me. What should I do?”  I hear this a lot.  I also hear, “Isaiah, I was on the phone with a recruiter and as soon as they heard that I needed a visa, they hung up” …”or as soon as they heard I had no industry experience, they hung up.”  Man, I personally hate this. What a waste of time. The recruitment industry is broken.  The good news is its being devoured by Artificial Intelligence,…

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.

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.

AI & ATS Resume Filters

AI & ATS Resume Filters

Isaiah Hankel

In today's competitive job market, understanding the impact of AI is crucial for career success. This involves ensuring your resume stands out in the digital realm, mastering your online presence, and being aware of how AI assigns reputation scores. Discovering how to leverage AI to your advantage is essential, as it plays a pivotal role in shaping professional opportunities.

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.