How to Write the Best Cover Letter for a Research Scientist Job
A cover letter’s mission is to make a case for why the employer should interview you and – to the extent you are comfortable – actually ask for the interview. Your resume can be thought of as a supporting brochure that helps make the case that you should be considered and is designed to get them interested enough to invite you for an interview.
This article focuses on components of the cover letter for a research scientist. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), medical scientists earn a median annual salary of $84,810 annually ($40.77 per hour), and typically have a doctoral or professional degree. Some may have an MD but conduct research in addition to, or instead of, practicing as a physician. From 2018 through 2028 the BLS projects job growth for medical scientists at a faster-than-average 8%.
All kinds of structures are possible for cover letters, and hiring decision makers don’t offer any consensus on structure. But if you’re inexperienced with cover letters, the following offers a basic roadmap for getting started. One thing that’s changed since I first started writing about cover letters is peoples' attention spans. I used to recommend a maximum of four paragraphs – and some people can still get away with four. Three, however, is a safer limit these days – and the full letter should never be more than a page. Some experts say decision makers scan the whole letter in about 10 seconds. Here’s a structure for starters, including a paragraph that I now frame as optional:
Opening Paragraph: Do not waste the opening paragraph of your cover letter. It is essential that your first paragraph sparks the employer’s interest, provides information about the benefits the employer will receive from you, and helps you stand out from all the other job seekers who want the job. Right from the get-go, identify one or two benefits you can offer the employer and tell how you can make a difference for the organization.
Weak opening paragraph:
I am writing today to apply for the research scientist position you have posted on BioSpace.
Better opening paragraph:
My Ph.D. in molecular biology and five years as a postdoctoral fellow in the U.S. and in Switzerland, along with my leadership skills and ability to contribute collaboratively, will enable me to enhance your lab’s success in a research scientist capacity, per your current job posting on BioSpace.
[Optional] Next Paragraph. Provide more detail about your professional and/or academic qualifications. Include more information about how you can provide the benefits you mention in the first paragraph. Expand on specific items from your resume that are relevant to the job you are seeking. Use solid action verbs to describe your accomplishments and achievements. If responding to a job posting or job ad, be sure to tailor this paragraph to the needs described in the ad.
Sample Next Paragraph:
I offer proficiency in cell biology, techniques in molecular biology in general, and RNA methodologies in particular, encompassing various techniques of DNA and RNA isolation, linear RNA amplification for microarray hybridization, RNA microinjection, RT-PCR and quantitative RealTime PCR (TaqMan), in-situ hybridization, as well as a wide variety of lab techniques and computer skills, as outlined in my CV.
Relate yourself to the company, giving details why you should be considered for the position. Continue expanding on your qualifications while showing your knowledge of the company. Be sure you’ve done your homework – show that you know something about the organization.
Sample Next Paragraph:
My current experience as a postdoctoral research associate in the Molecular Biology Group at Novartis Pharmaceuticals AG in Basel, Switzerland, translates well to the requirements of your research-scientist position. These past three years at a leading international pharmaceutical company, along with two years of postdoctoral research at the Center for Developmental Biology, University of Texas, have bolstered an eclectic combination of skills that gives me a solid foundation upon which to make an immediate and meaningful contribution at your lab.
The final paragraph of your cover letter must be proactive – and a call to action. You must ask for the job interview (or a meeting) in this paragraph. You must express your confidence that you are a perfect fit for the job. You must also put the employer on notice that you plan to follow-up within a specified time.
Don’t leave the ball in the employer’s court. Too many cover letters end with a line like this: “If you are interested in my qualifications, please call me.” Proactive cover letters, in which the job seeker requests an interview and promises to follow up with a phone call, are far more effective.
Weak closing paragraph:
I hope you will review my resume, and if you agree with what I have stated here, consider me for the position. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Better closing paragraph:
I am eager to help advance the success of your company, and I am convinced that we should arrange a time to meet. I will call your office in the next week to schedule an appointment.
- Employer focus: Avoid telling the employer what the company can do for you instead of what you can do for the company. This rookie mistake is particularly common among new college graduates and other inexperienced job seekers. In most cases, employers are in business to make a profit. They want to know what you can do for their bottom line, not what they can do to fulfill your career dreams.
- Keep it concise and edit: Your letter should be not only fairly short, but also concise and pithy. Edit your letter mercilessly. Follow the journalist’s credo: Write tight! Cut out all unnecessary words and jargon. Then go back and do it again.
Proofread: If your timeframe will allow it, put your cover letter down, and then pick it up a day or two later as though you were the prospective employer. Does it grab and hold your attention? Is it concise? Is it free of typos, misspellings, and grammatical errors? Is it interesting? If you were the employer, would you know what this job seeker wants to do and why he or she is the best person to do it? Would you invite this job seeker for an interview?