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“Attached you will find my resume for the position of_______”.  How many cover letters have you created and submitted that included such a standard opening?  How many other candidates do you think have done the same?  Put yourself in the recruiter’s or hiring manager’s position and imagine how tedious it must be to read submission after submission with these same or similar words.

Recruiters can easily receive 100’s of cover letters and resumes for each advertised MSL opening.  As a result, your cover letter needs to grab the attention of the recruiter or hiring manager very quickly.  Most employers will only spend a matter of seconds during an initial pre-screening or review of your cover letter. If it doesn’t grab their attention in some way, it will be discarded.

What strategy can you use to catch the attention of the recruiter or hiring manager?  You need to use an attention-grabbing relevant opening while simultaneously remaining professional.  In short, write something that will motivate the reader to learn more about you.

Here are five unconventional strategies to create an attention-grabbing opening:

  1. Mention a previous discussion with the hiring manager

Obviously, you can only pursue this tactic if you have spoken with this person. However, if you had shared such a conversation you have a distinct advantage.  Start the letter by referring to this prior contact.

Example:  “Thank you for taking the time to speak with me regarding the MSL role in the __________therapeutic area.  This position is very interesting and seems to match well with my experiences and to what you and the company are looking for.”

  1. Mention the name of the person who referred you

Recruiters and hiring managers are much more likely to remember a cover letter when it mentions a trusted colleague or friend.

Example:  “Hello, my name is ______ and I received your name and contact details from John Smith.  I am contacting you to learn more about the MSL role with _____ Pharmaceuticals that you are working on”.

  1. Open the letter with a description of a major (and relevant) success

Concisely describe this major accomplishment and point out how you can achieve similar results for their company.

Example:  “As a senior MSL with _______ Pharmaceuticals in CV, I was able to develop and manage significant KOL relationships which resulted in _____________.  I would appreciate the opportunity to speak with you regarding the MSL role in (CV or specific drug) with ______ Pharmaceuticals.”  (You need to match and relate your background, accomplishments, pre-existing KOL relationships within the same Therapeutic Area, or any other relevant experiences to the needs of the role and company you are applying to.)   

  1. Quote the hiring manager directly

If the hiring manager has been interviewed in the media or has posted a comment to a social media site or blog, quote the statement in your letter and highlight how your business practices and values are aligned.  

Example: “In a recent interview you had with _________, you stated, “the MSL role continues to evolve as a greater number of KOLs increasingly recognize the important contribution that MSLs can make in the development of their research projects.”  After reading this statement, I was confident that my relevant MSL experience of the documented history of successfully working with KOLs on numerous research projects would be valued at  __________ Pharmaceuticals.  

  1. Quote a recent industry article or statistic

Quoting an article or statistic relevant to the specific company or industry demonstrates your knowledge of industry trends, latest news, or recent developments.

Example: “The recent (for example-specific Medical Journal reference) article stated that ________ Pharmaceuticals CNS product (or drug) went into phase III trials for the treatment of severe pain. Having relevant experience of working with two pain products in phase III trials while at _________ Pharmaceuticals, will enable me to play a critical role in assisting the company to be successful in this important step.”

The first paragraph should make it clear how your background and experiences fit well with the role and how you can add value to the team.  If possible, try to make a connection with the company, the hiring manager, a mutual colleague, or some other relevance to your background to grab the attention of the reader.

Obviously, the most important factor that a hiring manager considers when screening an applicant is that the candidate meets the minimum requirements for the role.  However, when several candidates meet the initial criteria, one way to distinguish yourself is to write a unique cover letter to grab the attention of the reader to motivate them to arrange a telephone interview or screen.

Copyright 2013-2018 The Medical Science Liaison Society. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without prior written authorization. The MSL Society is a 501(c)(3) Non-Profit Organization dedicated to advancing the global MSL career.


Dr. Samuel Dyer is the Chairman of the Board of the MSL Society and the author of “The Medical Science Liaison Career Guide: How to Break Into Your First Role“, the first step-by-step guide ever published on how to successfully land your first MSL role.