Employers often request a cover letter (or letter of interest) along with your resume. This is your opportunity to demonstrate your writing skills, but, more importantly, this is your opportunity to demonstrate your fit for the position to which you are applying. Use these general guidelines and the tips for specifically for grad students to craft cover letters that appeal to non-academic employers.
Cover Letter Tips for Graduate Students
Anticipate stereotypes of academics and disarm them. This might include assumptions that academics:
- View non-academic jobs a fallback plan or filler job until they can secure an academic job
- Prefer to work in solitary conditions; are bad at collaboration
- Can only write for or relate to other academics
- Are only interested in positions that involve research, writing white papers, “scholarly” work…
Present yourself as a professional, not a graduate student.
Paint a picture of your past experiences that helps the employer picture in the job you are seeking. Use the job posting as a guide to decide what skills, experiences and details to include.
Connect the dots.
One of the most challenging aspects of writing a cover letter is figuring out how to concisely summarize your various work and educational experiences and in a way that demonstrates your fit for this new position. If you only worked a year or two between undergrad and grad school and the job isn’t relevant to the position you are seeking, don’t worry about including it in your cover letter. For those with several years of work experience:
- Think of your resume as a highlight reel; your cover letter as a narrative highlight reel
- Select the most relevant roles, details and accomplishments.
- Consider how you might combine or summarize these elements. Identify common themes, for ex.:
- Skillsets used: Maybe all your roles involved teaching/ training or research and data analysis.
- Skillsets developed: “These roles helped me cultivate (skills/ in-depth understanding of)”
- Shared purpose: Helping clients _________; supporting a particular cause or demographic
- Personal discovery: helped you find your passion, realize where you belong/ what drives you…
Make your case
Help the employer understand how your academic experiences are not only relevant but valuable. Candidates who have been working in that industry may be able to get away with simply explaining how they meet the qualifications, but you will need to take it one step further. Make your fit for the position apparent AND make the argument for why the employer should choose you over other applicants. Explain how your unique/ advanced skills could benefit this specific position/ team and the company’s overall goals. Your arguments should reflect your knowledge of the company/ industry and the job.
Solicit the advice of a career coach and non-academics working in your target field.