I hated writing cover letters for job applications. It felt like such busywork.
All my relevant skills and demonstrated outcomes are on my resume, you can see it in such wonderfully organized glory. Why does it need to put into sentence form?
Well sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, and unfortunately, cover letters are still required for many jobs.
But don’t let that get you down too much! Cover letters are annoying to prepare, but they have a benefit that you can think selfishly about: they can help you realize why you’re applying for that job by being forced to put your thoughts, reasoning, and future interview responses into sentence form.
Industry Cover Letter Template
This is the cover letter I used for my industry job applications. It’s in template form, so you can see where you’d be putting in your job-relevant information.
Industry Cover Letter General Organization
Similar to the resume, having lots of white space will make the cover letter feel approachable and digestible. It’s like when you see a really big comment or a large wall of text in a blog post. You don’t always feel motivated to put your energy into reading all of it (that’s why I do so many line breaks in my blog posts).
Why would a jaded recruiter feel any different?
As you can see from my template, I keep the font fairly large (whatever allows all the final text to fit into 1 page), have a sidebar for the respective addresses that allows more white space to be introduced, and have open space above and below.
A lot of it is self-explanatory, but I’ll include some thoughts on each part of the overall organization of the cover letter. In the next section below, I’ll get into the two main body paragraphs in a bit more detail.
Your Full Name and Exact Position Name from Job Listing
This is very obvious, but similar to the resume, having the exact position name from the job listing will help the recruiter associate your name with the position. It’s not like you’re pretending to already have the role or saying that’s what you are right now. It’s just procedural and for clarity!
You can put your city and state at the top, followed by your phone number and email address. No need to expose your exact address yet. Putting your city and state helps the recruiter get a sense of where you’re from, if you’ll need to relocate, time zones to consider when scheduling calls, all that logistical stuff. This is the same reasoning for why you put this info on your resume.
I used to put “To Whom It May Concern”. Then, I read some really great cover letter guides (linked below!) and turned it into the above.
What’s optimal would be to figure out exactly who’s going to read the cover letter and use their name. You can find this information in the job listing details. But, sometimes that’s impossible, and the above has worked perfectly fine for me.
Industry Cover Letter Paragraph Organization
Similar to my resume, I found that the cover letter was not the place to tell my life story or some irrelevant anecdote about my childhood. What worked for me was to immediately get to the point and make every sentence that the recruiter reads something that is going to convince them to talk to me.
You will have to fill in the above spaces with job-relevant details, but try not to go over 1 page! You want to show that you can market yourself efficiently and effectively.
Ramblers are the worst IRL, and it’s even worse when in the form of a wall of text. Why would you expect someone who doesn’t know you or care about you to read a whole bunch of nothing?
All you gotta do at this stage is to give the recruiter a reason to care about you!
I organized the contents of my cover letter into 2 main body paragraphs. Anything I wanted to say about my fit for the role, I put into one of those 2 paragraphs. Here’s a little bit about what each one consisted of:
The First Paragraph
The first paragraph mentioned all my technical skills directly relevant to the role, straight from the job listing, to assure the reader (usually a recruiter) that “I’m not going to be a waste of your time and the company’s money, and here’s why”.
This paragraph included things like:
- Experimental lab techniques directly mentioned in the job listing (Ex.: cell culture, PCR, immunohistochemistry)
- Technical understanding of concepts directly related to the job (Ex.: sequencing, clinical trials, epidemiology)
- Non-lab technical skills directly related to the job (Ex.: programming languages, software, literature search)
The Second Paragraph
The second paragraph contained stuff that wasn’t as important as the technical stuff in the first paragraph, but was still worth mentioning. They tended to be soft skills that are relevant to the role and either mentioned in the job listing or I generally deduced from reading the job listing.
This paragraph included things like:
- Communication-related soft skills directly related to the job (Ex.: customer service, public speaking, teamwork)
- Productivity-related soft skills (Ex.: time-management, task prioritization, problem solving)
Figuring out what to write in each paragraph will be pretty straightforward given you’ve already completed your resume (resume template and tips are available in this post)!
Remember to include outcomes, not just things that you can do that are in the job listing. Outcomes are a great way for you to show that not only can you do things, but that your work outputs will be worth their financial investment.
Industry Cover Letter Guides
Here are some guides that helped me with my cover letter! I’m just one person who’s only written successful cover letters for myself, so I wanted to share other guides to help you out as well.
- 5 Must-Do Steps for the Perfect Cover Letter
- Note: I don’t endorse any paid services from Cheeky Scientist. Their free resources are really helpful, so I share them on my blog. I don’t think it’s necessary to pay money to get career tips and to make the transition from Ph.D. to industry. A lot of career counseling services prey on the aimless insecurity that Ph.D.s have as they try to navigate making that transition. I promise I will never do that.
- Resumes & Cover Letters for Industry Positions
- A super helpful guide that has information on how to dissect job listing descriptions and use that info in your resume and cover letter! They have cover letter examples at the bottom.
- BioSpace Cover Letter Guide
- This one is geared for Research Scientist positions!
My approach to cover letters was to write something easy for the recruiter to approach and digest, where each sentence convinced them that I was a good fit for the role and worth their time and money.
Remember, you will be able to share more about yourself and get more personable in the recruiter screen (the phone call or video call that follows the initial application step), so don’t stuff too much extraneous info into the cover letter (or resume) that’s not directly relevant to the role. All you have to do with the cover letter is spark their curiosity through demonstrating fit, and make them want to talk to you.
Keep in mind, these are just my tips from my personal experiences, so please find other guides and get insights from other people who successfully made their transition into industry to supplement the tips you read here. Good luck!