Career Center

Cover Letters

Cover letters serve to introduce and provide a first impression of a candidate to a potential employer through formal communication pathways. Well written cover letters present an employer with a writing sample highlighting a candidate’s background, skills and experience through well articulated examples, and providing the reader with a natural introduction to the candidate’s resume or CV. By demonstrating ‘fit’ between a candidate’s background and the employer’s goals, a cover letter’s objective is to motivate the reader to invite the candidate for an interview.

For successful cover letter writing, incorporate these five guidelines:

  1. Address your letter to the appropriate person.  Through research and networking, identify the contact to whom the materials should be addressed.
  2. Write clearly, concisely and specifically.  Be positive in your tone. Keep your letter to one page or less.
  3. Use concrete and compelling examples throughout.
  4. Establish ‘fit’ by addressing the employers’ needs. Acknowledge the job’s qualifications.
  5. Demonstrate your knowledge of the organization and how you can help them reach their goals.

The typical structure of a cover letter begins with an introduction, is followed by specific relevant examples and background information, and finishes with a strong conclusion. 

Begin with an introduction
Provide a brief introduction of yourself; indicate why you are interested and how you learned of the position. Describe why you are the top candidate for the job. For example:

Dear Dr. Brown,

Recently I met with Dr. Elaine Smith in your informatics division and she shared with me some of the novel approaches taken at Your Company. We had an enjoyable discussion and she recommended that I apply to the bioinformatics scientist position. I am currently a postdoctoral scholar in the laboratory of XX XX at Stanford University. I earned my PhD in medical informatics from the University of Arizona in 2007.  Your Company’s scientific mission in biomedical research is aligned with my scientific interests and background.  

Provide background
Describe your background and qualifications for the position; demonstrate ‘fit.’  Include specific examples from your resume and experience to demonstrate your qualifications, knowledge of the organization (i.e. some of the employer’s key projects or concerns) and how you would begin to solve them. For example:

As an independent researcher for the past three years, much of my focus has been on A. The challenge has been to B and I have achieved that by C. Since Your Company is a forerunner in A technology I know my background and skills will address the challenges of B and will help move the field closer to amazing scientific breakthroughs, D.

In addition to a background in research, I have sought out leadership and management experience. For the past two years I have advised three undergraduates through their honors thesis projects and have appreciated my role both as mentor and collaborator. I have also served as chair of the XX committee where I recruited twenty-five students and postdocs to present their research, partnered with life sciences companies to host a symposium, and raised $2,000 for student scholarships. 

Conclude
In closing, thank the reader for his/her consideration, and if you plan to follow up in some way, include that here. For example:

By bringing together my accomplished scientific background in bioinformatics along with my mentoring and teamwork experience, I believe that I am particularly well qualified for your position and would like to have the opportunity to meet with you to explore how I may be of value to your team. 

Sincerely,

A. Wellqualified Candidate


Additional Resources
The SoMCC offers resources within the library and through individual advising appointments to help you further develop your credentials. Schedule an appointment, introduce yourself and let us work with you to reach your career goals. To schedule a consultation, please email us, somcareers@stanford.edu , or call us at 650-725-7687.

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