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  • Writer's pictureBethann Garramon Merkle

Advice: A cover letter should center your expertise *relevant to the position/RFP*, not your career

Updated: Jan 14

When you’re looking for job or funding opportunities, your cover letter does some heavy lifting. (#throwback photo of me doing field research on bison in Canada | credit: J. Merkle)

It’s “application season” for fellowships, jobs, grants, and more. This time of year, I field a lot of queries about fine-tuning cover letters and application materials. I’ve shared various resources for them online (like a workshop series on applying for the NSF GRFP that’s applicable to most application types) and on social media.


Today, I want to share something more specific and detailed about what is arguably the most important part of your application: the cover letter.


To my mind, the cover letter is most important because it may be the only part of your application that a hiring manager, grants program officer, editor, or whomever reads.* Your cover letter is your shot at getting them to want to read your CV, references, etc. With the cover letter, your goal is to get on the short list for reading your full packet or even offering a phone/video-call interview.


For some perspective, Virginia Schutte and I recently released another episode in our podcast, Meteor: The honest podcast about scicomm with impact. That episode was about using your resume and/or CV to understand, define, and validate yourself, not to ask for permission.


Similarly, in your applications, you should not be trying to convince the reader that you can become who you want to be relative to the position or opportunity. Rather, you should do what Virginia talks about in that podcast episode: you have to be convincing as who you are, the person they might want to hire. This is especially relevant for your cover letter.


So, what can this look like?


Keep reading for my deconstruction of my own most recent 2 cover letters. This isn’t a fail-safe formula, but it is a template** you can build from. 🤗


If you use it, or if you have other templates you prefer, I’d love to hear about it in the comments or on Twitter! I’m always looking for resources to share with folks who are trying to connect their interests, training, and career next-steps.


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