In the first call for post-docs in my lab, I realized that most applicants did not have a clear idea of what to write in a cover letter. My technicians and I read them all with great frustration. Retrospectively, this is not so surprising, given that nobody teaches you how to write a cover letter in academia. Since it may be useful for the community, I am going to explain how I read a cover letter and what I would like to see there.
What is a cover letter for?
From the principal investigator’s perspective, a cover letter is to get some insight into your motivations.
Several candidates think that the cover letter is the place to argue why you should hire them. Others use it as a chance to translate their CV into English prose. None of this will bring you very far. All you need to do is give enough information about yourself to let the employer know whether you have the profile they are looking for. At the same time, you want to demonstrate a proactive attitude.
Before you write, ask yourself what drives you, why you started this career. Is that ambition...