Biology majors, your resume and cover letter are the two most vital components of your job application, whether you're going into government research or applying to work at a private lab. Your resume highlights your skills and experiences, plus any recognition or awards you received.
However, your cover letter is where you share your story: the details that inspire you and make you a good fit for your next job. Tell the hiring manager why you fell in love with biology, how your college experience shaped your desired focus, and why you are the right person for this job.
Your cover letter is the place to explain how your laboratory skills and degree position you well to succeed in the specific role you're applying for. Personalize your biology cover letter to suit each position and sector, whether you're applying to a pharmaceutical company, a government organization or a foundation. Remember: always create a unique letter for each job you apply for. You can't write a generic cover letter and change only the company name ― not if you want to make it to the interview process.
Here are a few ways your cover letter can help you land your first job in a biology-related field.
1. Know the audience for your biology cover letter
When you're writing a cover letter, you need to know who you're writing to. Is this letter going to a recruiter who specializes in science or technology? Is it going to the director of research and development at a biotech company? The first step to write an entry-level biology cover letter is to identify who will read it.
If you're writing to your prospective manager, send a more personal appeal that highlights why you'd like to be part of his or her team, noting one or two specific details about their research or recent projects. If that manager runs clinical trials, explain why you find it fascinating and point out an experiment you did in college that inspired you to apply.
If you're writing to a general hiring manager or recruiter, you may want to use broader language, but don't miss the opportunity to highlight the range of technical and analytical skills you've acquired. If you studied calculus, genetics, chemistry or physics, share how you'll use those skills and experiences in the position and industry you're applying for.
Take the time to find out who will be reading your cover letter. If the job description doesn't give you any clues, look at the company's website or even give them a call.
2. Do your research
Here are a few research tips to help you get situated with a company's mission, history and current state, as well as their employees.
- Don't try to fake your knowledge of the company or job by using generalities.
- Study the company's website.
- Do a Google search for news and information about the company.
- Check out the LinkedIn pages of your potential colleagues.
"There is nothing creepy about connecting with and reading about the people who work at the company on LinkedIn," says Paul Smith, senior vice president at PEAK Technical Staffing. "People expect you to do your due diligence on LinkedIn before you apply."
This knowledge will inform the way you write your cover letter. If, for example, the company invented a medical device or technology, find a way to highlight your own advanced coursework by tying that invention to your studies. Perhaps mention that your state-of-the-art bioinformatics class or the graduate-level course you took in statistical genetics gives you an interest and skill set that uniquely applies to the sort of work these people are doing.
3. Tell a story
Your biology degree taught you to be precise, analytical and curious. But simply stating in your cover letter that you are good at problem solving or that you have training in the scientific method won't be enough. You need to convince someone that you ― above all the other entry-level biology applicants ― are the right person to interview. You are trying to make a connection with the person reading your letter.
When writing a cover letter for a biology job, choose a project you worked on or an interest you pursued and tell a succinct, engaging story. Were you fascinated by aquatic ecology? Did you dig deep into biogeography or ornithology? Why? How did that lead to you seeking employment from this company and these people?
Include a detail or two to demonstrate how this experience taught you something you believe to be necessary for the job.
4. Evaluate your cultural fit
While doing online research about the company and the role, pay attention to the company culture. Spend some time not only on the company site but also on LinkedIn and Glassdoor. On LinkedIn, look for engagement with the company – employees liking and commenting on company news is an example. When researching a company on Glassdoor, read both the interview notes and the company reviews. Keep in mind that the employees who post are likely the least engaged and the most satisfied, with not many in the middle. Take all of the reviews together and look for trends and commonalities.
Is it a vibrant, diverse company? Does the organization have a dedication to environmental issues? Share an anecdote about your volunteer experience cleaning up the nearby coastline, or why you chose to attend a university with a large international population in your cover letter.
5. Don't forget why
The hiring manager wants to know you have the skills this job requires. And they want to know you've done your research on the company and culture because those factors will affect your day-to-day life in the position. But they also want to know why you want this job.
In fact, explaining your motive is one of the key reasons for writing a cover letter. Your resume is an essential document, but it doesn't share why you ― a recent graduate with a biology degree ― think you're suited to this job. Having a relevant degree helps, but it's not enough.
Explain why you are interested, how this job fits into your life plan, and how your specific skills will enable you to excel. As always, be specific. Did you discover you enjoyed statistics or math on the way to fulfilling the prerequisites for a course in genetics? Are you fascinated by both the data collection of population studies as well as the biology of the populations?
You're asking a lot of a one-page cover letter. If all that pressure is making it difficult for you to find the right story or the right words, don't worry. Our Cover Letter Builder will get you from a blank page to a detailed (yet concise) letter that displays your skills and ambitions.