As I have searched for postdoctoral positions, the postdocs in my research group have suggested using websites like postdocjobs.com and the job listings on the Science and Nature sites. Surprisingly, I only saw a few advertisements where a cover letter was specifically requested. I do not have much experience writing cover letters, so I set out to find some resources on how to write an effective cover letter.
First, I contacted Leslie Juvin-Acker of liveloveleslie.com. I have worked with her in the past when I felt like I needed a career coach to improve my communication skills and hone my vision for my career path. She recommended the book 101 Best Cover Letters by Betrus. I hope to find this book soon, because she said it would be a very helpful starting point. [Editors Note: this book is available in the Bio Careers Bookstore.]
I turned to the internet next, hoping to find some simple resources for a rough idea of what should be included in an academic cover letter. A successful cover letter will provide a showcase for your intellect, writing abilities, and enthusiasm to start your new job. It may take days or weeks to write an effective letter, as you gather advice from mentors and peers, revise your letter, and really consider what you want to say in one to two pages.
The format will vary, but a general outline is:
– Opening paragraph: Introduce yourself and mention that you are applying for a specific position. Include a graduation date if PhD isn’t already granted.
– Interest paragraph: Explain why you are interested in the institute and what you can bring to the institute. If it’s a teaching university, emphasize your teaching experience.
– Research paragraph: Describe the work you have done using specific details, but without too much jargon. Use language that communicates you are confident in your research and are a professional.
– Closing paragraph: Include information on awards/honors, graduation date (if not mentioned in opening paragraph) and availability to begin working, and service work (professional and extracurricular) if it is applicable to the position. Mention that your CV is attached, your attendance at future meetings where you could interact with the advisor, and alternate contact information if you travel frequently.
Other tips include:
– Review the job ad to include key words in your cover letter (all those action verbs!).
– Check for grammatical errors.
– Don’t overuse the word “I” in your letter.
– Address the person reading your letter with a formal title, even if it’s generic (“Director of ____”).
– Follow any directions that are given.
– Ensure that your font will be appropriate if using web-based applications (no one wants their Greek characters to turn into useless, distracting symbols or strings of random characters!).
Most of the information in this post is from the following websites: