Cheeky Logo
Ready To Transition Into Industry?
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



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

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…

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…

4 Powerful Ways To Communicate Your PhD Value To Industry Employers

4 Powerful Ways To Communicate Your PhD Value To Industry Employers

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

What’s the biggest gap that you have when it comes to transitioning into industry? How do you communicate your value? This is a common question I like to ask PhDs. And, very often, I get the following answer:  Well, I’m not sure how to position myself for industry. What this actually means is that you don’t know how to communicate your value to potential employers.  You probably only know how to talk about your skills in academic terms. You only know how to talk to other academics, but industry employees don’t really care for that type of language. This leaves…

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.