Tips on writing cover letters, resumes, and CVs.

First, let me start with a disclaimer: I am no expert in this area. I have over the years revised the English of cover letters, resumes and CVs for a variety of researchers, business people, academics and other individuals whose first language is not English, but I cannot claim any expertise in this area. I am just offering my opinion here, along with a few quotes from a few popular books on the subject. My expertise is in teaching English and in editing of research papers, scientific manuscripts, books and other academic texts. You can read more about my online classes or editorial service on my website if you are curious:


My goal here is to pass on some general information that I hope may be useful to you if you are a non native speaker of English applying for a job as a professor, a researcher, or post doc position, where you need to communicate in English. Much of this information is gleaned from my experience in the US, but it could apply to other countries as well.

I will divide this into three sections devoted to cover letters, resumes and CVs. I will include some of my personal observations, as well as a few books I have read lately about the subject. This is not and exhaustive list or coverage of these issues. You can find a great deal of free information online and you should also be aware that this information and conventions for writing cover letters and CVs vary according to the wide range of academic fields and work.

While most people understand the importance of sending a cover letter with a job application, I once had someone ask me to revise a resume he was going to send a potential employer, without sending a cover letter. He told me that in his country it was fine to simply send a resume to a potential employer.  I don’t really know if this is true for any country, but I will say that for the US and many other countries, the cover letter is an essential tool for introducing yourself to a potential employer, as well as a means of setting yourself apart from all other applicants. The cover letter serves a bridge between your general resume, and the specific skills, strengths and experiences you want to point out that are relevant to the job you are applying for. For every job you apply to, you should create a specific cover letter that connects your specific skills to the skills needed for the job you are applying for. Typically, you can use sentences like these to draw you reader’s attention to various experiences on your resume:

            As you can see from my resume, I have been trained in various next-generation DNA sequencing platforms, including Ion torrent, Ion PGM, SOLiD 5500W, and gold standard Sanger.

            As you can see from my resume, I attended the University of Massachusetts and graduated with a Masters in education, and I have earned a lifetime certification to teach English Language learner grades K-12 in Massachusetts’ public schools.


Cover letters are typically no more than one or two pages long. I recommend before you write yours that you create a general outline so that it is well structured. You might begin by thanking the hiring manager for considering your application:

            Thank you Dr. Smith for considering me for the position of clinical director at your institution.

You might then make a general statement about how you see yourself in relation to the job

            I believe I am particularly well suited for the position of X.

I am confident that my experience and expertise in this area make me a good fit for this position.

I believe my training and experience making me a particularly strong candidate for this position.


From this point, you might give a general hint as to what you will say in the rest of the cover letter:


I would like to stress how my education, work experience, and personality would support me in carrying out this work.

From this point, you could then write three paragraphs related to each of these topics: education, work experience, and personality.

In each of these paragraphs, you could make some general point about how you education, work experience, and personality relate to the job, and then give specific details and examples that support this. One point I would make here is that many cover letters can be very general, cliché, and vague. Here is your chance to give concrete details and examples that support your claim that you are a great candidate for the job. Your goal should not be simply to show that you have the basic qualifications for the job, but instead, to show how you stand out from the others. You might, for example, offer a unique vision or plan that you believe you might enact if you were to get the job. Even if your plan is not appealing or feasible, you will at least impress the potential employer by showing that you have initiative, that you are a self-starter, that you have dreams and visions, that you inventive and clever. I believe this sort of strategy is effective in various fields, as employers don’t simply want someone who can just do the job, but someone who will do the job with great commitment, passion and drive, as well as someone who could transform or qualitatively improve a workplace or institution.


Another purpose of the cover letter is the highlight your specific skills and talents that may not be apparent in the resume. In some cases, you will simply need to mention specific areas of expertise you have, and in others you may need to be more creative in making a connection between one former job experience and the job you are targeting, which may be very different from your past job. Yet, you certainly want to be as concrete and clear as possible in making these connections, as it is really your responsibility to point out your skills to any potential employer. The people who read resumes are known to quickly scan the dozens of resumes and applications they receive, so take your time to make your story clear and compelling. Sometimes you will only have a few seconds of their attention so you will want to grab their attention and showcase your achievements and skills. This is not the place for modesty and being humble. As we say in the US, if you got it, flaunt it. In other words, you need to explicitly bring attention to your achievements and skills.

One additional approach you can take is to highlight certain personality traits you have that may make you particularly suited for a job. While this is an approach that is often overlooked, I want to emphasize how important I think this is. I believe that most people applying for a professional job will have impressive credentials and experience, yet many will not have the particular character traits that employers will desire. So if you have these traits, be sure to name them. More importantly, while skills and training can be added over one’s lifetime, personality is not as easily improved, since many people don’t have great self-awareness of their personality weaknesses an foibles, nor do they have the motivation to improve or modify them, so if you have great character traits that a certain job requires, then certainly mention them. Since employers dread hiring people who may poison the work atmosphere, they really do pay a great deal of attention to choosing people with positive character traits that make work a supportive place for everyone. So do not think that mentioning character traits is a trivial matter.

Below are some examples of traits you might point out that could be desirable to an employer. If you are not familiar with some of the words, be sure to understand them in a good dictionary:


I am a hard-working and conscientious worker. I am exceedingly meticulous and somewhat of a perfectionist. Consequently, I have been promoted and complimented on the quality of my work.


I am a good team player, capable of get along well with diverse groups of people. I am quite tolerant of and appreciative of differences in others. I am easy-going, approachable and disarming, which has helped me collaborate with diverse groups who did not easily work well with each other.

I am outgoing and I reach out to colleagues and co-workers to understand their concerns and needs.

I am diligent and punctual, willing to go the extra mile to meet deadlines and do whatever is necessary for a project to succeed.

I have a positive and upbeat attitude that can inspire others to do well.  I strive to bring out the best in others. I believe this has helped me contribute to a workplace with high morale, where people are pleased to come to work.

I am a self-starter, showing initiative to problem-solve and figure out issues without needing constant guidance and help from my supervisors.

I am passionate about my work. I am a highly energetic worker, fully committed to my work.

I have a solid track record of thinking-outside-the-box. I am willing to try new approaches and take calculated risks that may result in major breakthroughs and novel solutions. I have been involved in groundbreaking and cutting-edge research in biomedical research. My work with X resulted in a paradigm-shift in this area of research.

I hope this section above has illustrated some possible ways of emphasizing personality and character traits that will appeal to a potential employer. Since I primarily work with academics, scholars and researchers, I have less to say about, for example, applying for a job as a salesperson, or office manager, or financial advisor. Each area of work will have their particular catchphrases and topics that are more pertinent to them. Of course if you are in sales, you want to point out your skills in increasing the sales of a particular company. If you are an office manager, you want to point out your achievements in organization, networking, and coordinating office duties. If you would like to find more phrases particular to your area of expertise, you might check out, for instance, The Complete Book of Phrases for Successful Job Seekers. You can find it at Amazon:


And, finally, while this may seem like a trivial point, typos, grammar errors, and confusing non idiomatic language is one of the first criteria used to eliminate the first round of job applicants, as these issues are judged as a sign of being unprofessional, careless, sloppy, and whether it’s fair or not, they are considered an indicator of how conscientiously you will perform your duties. Perhaps there is some truth to this assumption. So before you even get to impress a potential employer with your skills and achievements, your resume and cover letter will be promptly tossed in the trash bin if it is marred by numerous typographical errors. For a fresh perspective on them, have your friends and colleagues “crowd source” your cover letter and resume. Read them repeatedly for errors and clarity. Polish it as best you can. If you are non native speaker of English, have a native speaker revise your cover letter and resume. In addition to this, consider finding a professional editor to give you feedback on you cover letter, resume.

I revise cover letters and resumes. I also do Skype sessions simulating job interviews. If you are interested, you can find more information on my website about my editorial service and classes:




You might also check out popular books like What Color is your Parachute? Guide to Rethinking Resumes. You can find it at Amazon:


As well as: What Color Is Your Parachute? 2016: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers


My next post here will be on resumes.