How to Write an Impressive Cover Letter (2023): Full Guide

To make a linear career growth, a job change is one of the options often thought of these days. After weeks and months of position search, you make a tailored resume for the coolest jobs you want to apply for and now you’re wondering how to write an impressive cover letter

Don’t worry! We’ve got you covered in a step-by-step guide.


1. What is a Cover Letter and Why It’s Important?

2. How to structure a cover letter?

2.1 Start with a Header

2.2 Address to the professor (the hiring manager)

2.3 Write an attention-catching introduction (to hook the reader)

2.4 Explain why you’re the perfect candidate for position

2.5 Back up your qualifications with examples

2.6 Explain why you’re a good fit for group

2.7 Wrap up with a call to action and formal closing

3. Bonus Tips

4. Cover letter samples

1. What is a Cover Letter and Why It’s Important?

A cover letter is a one-page or less note that you submit to a professor or hiring manager along with other application materials such as a resume, educational documents, a list of publications, etc. It is designed to introduce you in a more personal way and briefly summarizes your professional and educational background. It gives you the chance to express how your skills and experience line up with the specific job you’re pursuing.

When you write a compelling cover letter, the professor will indeed be interested and will read your resume. On the other hand, a poor cover letter can result in your application being shredded without even being inspected. Therefore, learning how to create a strong cover letter is imperative.

You want to convince the reader that you are interested in the position and the organization. By providing a few crisp facts that highlight your qualifications and experience, you should also illustrate how your experience has helped you become qualified for the position.

2. How to structure a cover letter?

You must understand that a cover letter is a supplement to your resume, not a substitute, which means you should not repeat whatever is mentioned in your resume. There are two different purposes for a cover letter and resume. It might be tough to write a cover letter for the first time. You don’t need to be creative, or even good at writing. All you have to do is follow a tried-and-tested structure as shown below.

2.1  Start with a Header

For uniformity, your resume and cover letter heading should ideally match. You should include a list of your contact information at the top of your cover letter. If you’d like, you can even copy the same heading from your resume. You could provide the following contact details:

  • Name
  • Designation
  • Address (optional but advised)
  • Email address
  • Phone number
  • LinkedIn profile link (optional but advised)

You might also consider adding your website – If you have a personal website that somehow adds value to your application. These days, some senior researchers with many years of experience have websites that explain pretty much everything in detail about different projects they worked on and their key research outcomes and this could be very interesting to understand more about you.

Your header might look like this:


2.2  Address to the professor (the hiring manager)

Coming down, mention the date of writing (some professionals even consider mentioning location as well but it’s optional). Then it’s a good idea and professional way to mention the reader’s details like the one shown in the example below. Most of the time aspirants miss out on this step and fail to impress the reader.

  • Prof. Mathew Johnsons
  • Department of Chemical Engineering
  • The University of Manchester
  • Sackville Street, The Mill, Manchester M39 THZ, UK

Now, properly address your cover letter directly to the professor/hiring manager using their name in the cover letter salutation. The study found that when we hear or see someone’s name, we frequently respond proactively. Make use of that information to grab their interest. You should not make mistakes in salutations by making them very general (see some common mistakes in the example below). In case you can’t find the name of the professor or hiring manager then there is no option but to use a general salutation like “Dear Sir/Madam”.

Right salutations

  • Dear George
  • Dear Mr. Matthew
  • Dear Dr. Fabrice
  • Dear Prof. John Heckmann

Wrong salutations

  • To whom it may concern
  • Hi Sir/Madam
  • Dear Prof. John
  • Dear Sir/Madam (but can be used if name is not available)

2.3  Write an attention-catching introduction (to hook the reader)

First impressions are important. This section will make or break your chances. The key is to hook the attention of the reader. The recruiting manager will decide whether or not to continue reading your cover letter after these few phrases.

You can use a variety of powerful opening techniques in your cover letter. You should showcase your accomplishments and show your enthusiasm and passion.

These days, professors and all recruiters, in general, receive thousands of applications for one or few positions. They probably won’t read every cover letter from beginning to end. The most common issue we have with a cover letter starting paragraphs is that they are frequently quite generic.

Here you want it to be memorable, friendly, and hyper-relevant to the job you’re pursuing.

No need to lead with your name—the professor can see it already. However, it’s good to mention the position you’re applying for because he/she might have multiple openings- Ph.D. or Postdoc.

 You could start with something simple like, “I am excited to apply for [position] with [Institute/University].”

Introduce yourself with a catchy first paragraph that highlights your excitement about the Institute/University you’re applying to, your passion for the work you do, and/or your past accomplishments.

This is a great place to explain why you are applying. Make it extremely obvious why you’re interested in the job. Do you have expertise in finding solutions to issues or achieving the project goals outlined for the position?

WRONG example: 

“In response to the advertised position, I would like to express my interest in joining your group as a Postdoctoral research fellow. I obtained my Ph.D. in organic chemistry from XYZ University and I come with 3+ years of experience in green chemistry synthesis”.

RIGHT Example:

“As a lifelong enthusiast of Organic Chemistry, I was thrilled to see your posting for the Postdoc position in Green Chemistry. I am positive and confident to overcome challenges to develop green route synthesis of ABC compounds for anticancer drug delivery applications. I have strong experience with successfully developing green chemistry molecules with 2 patents and 3 articles published in the last 3 years”.

Why the first example is not appealing? Because it provides no value and details of the accomplishments. This opening paragraph doesn’t say pretty much anything except the fact that you’ve worked the job before. And it’s not enough for someone with more than three years of experience to get the job.

Many other competing applicants will also have a similar experience. What’s the difference you are making here? You want to start with 2-3 of your top achievements to grab the reader’s attention. Preferably, the achievements should be as relevant as possible to the position.

2.4  Explain why you’re the perfect candidate for the position

In this part, you show off your professional skills and convince the professor that you’re a better fit for the position than all the other applicants.

You need to learn what the most important requirements for the role are. So, open up the position description and identify which of the responsibilities are the most critical.

Do not make the mistake of talking about how great the position would be for you. The professor or hiring manager cares about what you’re going to bring to the position, group, and university/company.

Here you should demonstrate your understanding of the professor’s requirements and explain how your experience is relevant to the post. Search for hints in the job description. What problem or challenge is the professor trying to solve by making this hire? What qualifications or experiences are prominently or repeatedly mentioned? These will probably be the most crucial requirements. Choose the three to five crucial criteria that you believe you best meet.

2.5  Back up your qualifications with examples

Look at your list of qualifications from the last step, and think of examples that prove you have them. Simply you want to paint a fuller picture of what experiences and accomplishments make you a great hire and show off what you can sashay through their doors with and deliver once you land the job.

For example, “By implementing ABC mechanism, methodology, I successfully developed material/technology for the European Union project XYZ which resulted into the realization of the first of its kind wireless multi-sensing chemical gas sensor”.

Try asking yourself these questions and finding answers that line up with the qualifications you’ve chosen to focus on:

  • Which strategy did you employ to deal with one of the points listed on your resume?
  • If you were to tell someone a narrative about achieving one of your resume’s bullet points, what details would you mention?
  • What about your character, or work ethic made you particularly skilled at completing the task at hand?

Come up with your examples, then throw in a few numbers. Professors love to see such stats—they will be happy to see you’ve had a measurable impact on a topic you’ve worked for.

2.6  Explain why you’re a good fit for the group

The professors have a Ph.D./Postdoc vacancy and if he/she is willing to hire you, it’s because they think you’ll satisfy those requirements. But they also want you to enjoy working with them—that way, they know you’re more likely to stay with them for longer and make good collaboration among other associates in the group, university, and project collaborators.

Professors are extra careful in selecting candidates because they have several plans around the position and are answerable to the funding agency, commission, or industry collaborators. If suppose you do not perform well or leave in between it’s a big loss in terms of time, money, and again months-long procedure to find your replacement. Your project record can even cost upcoming project grants or funding (especially industry partners look from this angle as well).

How do you do this? Well, you want to do some research about the group. You want to know things like:

  • What are the key research areas of the professor?
  • What are different sub-groups and their work direction?
  • Is the project interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, or with external collaborators?
  • Are you capable of executing all the tasks needed for your project or will you need assistance? For example, analysis, field study, etc.
  • What’s the culture like? Will someone micro-manage your work, or will you have autonomy on how you get things done?

You can google out to find more info on the professor’s other currently active projects, recent journal publications, group members, etc. Put together all logical information to complete this paragraph of the cover letter.

2.7 Wrap up with a call to action and formal closing

Don’t forget that your closing paragraph is your last chance to emphasize your enthusiasm to show how you’d be a great fit for the position. So, how to make the best cover letter ending? It’s tempting to throw away: “I look forward to hearing from you.”

Instead, provide value. Instead, tell the professor that you’re looking forward to meeting in person and discussing how your experience and knowledge can help to fulfill the goals. The worst mistake you can make is by focusing on how much you want the job, not on what you have to offer.

For example: “I strongly believe my energy, passion for innovation, and experience as a postdoctoral researcher very well. I would love to meet to discuss the value I could add as your team member for the ABC project. I appreciate your consideration and hope to meet with you soon.”

3. Bonus Tips

  • Be specific about your skills and achievement rather than general
  • Articulate to understand your profile easily
  • Make a proper flow in your cover letter story.
  • Express yourself (in a very professional manner) than impress
  • Make it grammatical and typo error-free
  • Don’t miss out on important information
  • Use active language than the passive one

4. Cover letter samples

Here is the link to cover letter samples from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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