Skip the Cover Letter

Most everyone will tell you that a cover letter is important. I disagree. There are very few instances I can think of where a cover letter is more beneficial than harmful.  More often than not, they end up disqualifying you from consideration rather than advancing your candidacy.

 How is the cover letter harmful?

Bad cover letters can get your resume sorted into the “don’t bother” pile very quickly, especially when you are looking to move into a new career or industry. For scientists looking to transition out of academia and into industry, a cover letter can highlight a lack of understanding about industry needs and priorities, making you sound “too academic.”

Bad cover letters suffer from one or more of these traits (and can communicate the following negatives):

  • Not targeted/appropriate to the specific position (says: you don’t pay attention to details, or you didn’t research the company, or you just don’t care enough to do a good job)
  • Bad spelling, bad grammar, poorly organized, and/or poorly written (says: bad communication skills)
  • Too long (says: no sense of urgency or no ability to prioritize/organize)
  • Overemphasis on yourself or your skills (says: too egotistical, poor team member)

Sometimes people even include cover letters when specifically told not to do so. That just says, “I don’t follow instructions well,” no matter what the content is!

There are times when a cover letter IS beneficial. Cover letters can be used to effectively address questions you know will arise from your resume such as

    • A career change
    • Frequent job changes or relocations
    • Gaps in employment
    • Any unusual job history (e.g. short stints with one or more employers)

Finally, it can be helpful to send a well-written cover letter if you know someone there, have been referred by someone known by the company, or have had a personal interaction with the organization.  It can be helpful, too, if you have transferrable skills needed, but from a different field (i.e., project management, automation, modeling using similar software, IT, etc.). Your cover letter should acknowledge your understanding of the new field, how those skills would apply to solving their problems, and why you have a genuine interest in the company.

If you must write a cover letter—it is required (or you just feel compelled to do so!)—follow these guidelines:

    • Make sure it is brief (3-4 paragraphs at the most), well organized, well written, and error free (i.e., proofread by at least one other person)
    • Make sure it reflects knowledge of the company and specific position (if available)
    • Make sure it communicates how you could benefit the organization (and/or solve issues if you know of any) and why you have a sincere interest in doing so
    • Avoid using humor, which often falls flat, but don’t be so formal or boring that your personality is buried
    • Don’t repeat all the points in your resume

MOST IMPORTANTLY, whether or not you include a cover letter, be sure your resume can stand on its own! Cover letters often get separated or ignored. And, most resumes for industry positions are really C.V.s, or some ineffective hybrid of  a resume-C.V.

Your resume needs to communicate the information a hiring manager wants to know in a way that s/he can find it and understand it.  

How do you do that?

At we have organized a packet of information assimilated from industry scientists, hiring managers, and recruiters to help you identify and share the information relevant to a hiring manager in industry. Everyone was in academia once, but now we know the key differences and want to help you make the transition into industry. Get the necessary insights to make sure your resume can stand alone, engage a hiring manager’s interest, and get you an interview. Invest in making yours the most powerful and effective document it can be.

You can even choose to have it reviewed by scientists in the industry who recruit, hire, or screen resumes for industry positions.

Once you have an industry-friendly, results-focused resume, check out industry postdoctoral openings OR (if you’ve finished your postdoc) new positions that do not require prior industry experience HERE.

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