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Story of a terrible phone screen and the mistake on a cover letter that you cannot afford

I share the cover letter I wrote for a job where I got the phone screen, had a terrible experience and did not get the job.

Although not directly related to the terrible experience, I point out the mistake in my cover letter that I have since learned to avoid at all cost.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
Let me talk about my (big) mistake first.

I applied for this job without a referral.

I found the job posted on LinkedIn and started to look into who might be in the hiring team. It was far from obvious. 

I was interested in the job but it was not directly related to my own field.

My Ph.D. was in particle astrophysics, the position was for a Bioinformatics Scientist.

I did not know anyone that could refer me.

I managed to find some people on LinkedIn that worked at the same company and knew someone that knew someone that might know the hiring manager.

But I didn't have even close to a strong rapport with anyone that was even close to the department of interest. 

After some days of trying to find people that might be able to refer me, I gave up and just applied.

I logged into their system and uploaded my resume and cover letter. 

The cover letter I submitted is at the end of this post and evidently, I did not know who to address the letter to.

Never ever do this.

If you don't know who to address the cover letter to, the game is over. Don't even bother.

As a Ph.D., you hope you'll get in at a senior position, higher than entry level. 

Most of these positions are posted after the referral for the position has already come in.

Not knowing the hiring manager means you don't have a referral.

Applying to jobs without a referral is a waste of time.

So, that was my mistake. It's like shooting in the dark.

No matter how desperate you might feel, the odds are against you and it usually does not work out.

I was contacted a few weeks after submitting the application saying that they wanted to do a phone screen for a Bioinformatics Postdoc Scientist position. 

The insertion of the word postdoc in the position title made me pretty uncomfortable, but I decided I would figure that out at a later stage - if there was going to be a later stage in the interview process.

On the phone screen, there were two guys. The director and the lead of the bioinformatics institution.

The director made me very uncomfortable.

I maintained a cheerful attitude but at the end of the call, I had an acute sense of being crapped on. 

The director asked me: "Why don't you try to become a librarian or work at the grocery store instead?"

(in a British accent) 


And, "Are you confident in your programming skills to even take the (code) test?"


I had mentioned I was from a technically heavy field and coded on a daily basis. 

I had highlighted my programming skills even in the cover letter:

I have experience with a variety of analysis tools and programming languages, including R and Python. I am proficient with UNIX/LINUX platforms and shell scripting.

He was very reluctant to give me the code test and verbalized his doubt that it was even worth giving a shot. 

It was bizarre. 

For those going through the process of interviewing or applying to jobs right now: 

Sometimes it makes absolutely no sense. 

You are told things that are just outright weird or wrong. 

If some people are making you feel like crap I've been there and as hard as it is you must move on. 

Better things are waiting.

People out there are not always kind and they say messed up things. 

You're interviewing them too and they just FAILED miserably. So, NEXT!

You can use the cover letter template below. 

Just remember that getting a referral or knowing who is hiring is the way to go.

Although I got a phone screen, I really was a total outsider and knew nothing about the hiring team and the people involved.

You never know what kind of bullsh*t you might have to deal with when that is the case.

The number of shenanigans you face as a job applicant without a referral is just way more and I thought I'd give you an example in this post.

Of course, it's not fair. 

Share your story in the comments below!


Oindree Banerjee
Work street address, Columbus, OH 43210 | 614-800-XXXX |

Feb 14, 2018

Hiring Team Member  (Never do this, figure out who they are!!)
Nationwide Children’s Hospital
700 Children’s Drive
Columbus, OH 43205

Dear Hiring Team Member(Never do this, figure out who they are!!)

I am applying for the IGM Computational Genomics Bioinformatics Scientist position at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. I am currently a Ph.D. candidate in Physics at Ohio State University, advised by Prof. Amy Connolly. I will be graduating in May of 2018 and available to start this position thereafter. Due to my 7+ years of experience in research and analysis, I am well-placed to make strong contributions to the Translational Bioinformatics team.

Working in the Particle Astrophysics field, specifically, the ANITA project, for my Ph.D., has given me the opportunity to strengthen skills that are transferable and relevant to this job. I have experience with a variety of analysis tools and programming languages, including R and Python. I am proficient with UNIX/LINUX platforms and shell scripting. ANITA is a collaborative effort involving around 50 scientists. I present research updates at weekly conference calls and have served as chair of the weekly simulation meeting. I have presented my research at international conferences as well and authored papers for publication in eminent journals. All of these experiences have prepared me to excel in the role of a Bioinformatics Scientist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

I understand that the work at Nationwide Children’s Hospital is deeply meaningful and directly impacts not only the progress of science and human knowledge but also people’s lives. This aspect of the role would be deeply fulfilling to me and would allow me to integrate a long-standing personal passion for the medical field with my professional proficiencies. I understand that such a role comes with a deep sense of responsibility, too. In my work so far, I have always enjoyed taking on critical responsibilities, such as when I was deployed to Antarctica for two months to launch and support the ANITA-4 mission.

I am results-driven and enjoy owning and making large impacts on the projects I work on. For example, my work in electronics for my Ph.D. project led to tripling the livetime of the experiment, and my work in the analysis of data from the ANITA-3 flight led to the first physics results from a new technique as well as an increase in analysis efficiency. I will be happy to present these results in more detail at an interview. Last but not the least, I am willing and excited to learn new topics and skills in this role, and complement my background and knowledge.

Kindly consider my application for this position. Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing back from you at your convenience.

Oindree Banerjee         


  1. Thanks for sharing Oindree, your post has come just right in time!!! Keep the good posts flowing in gal...

    1. Thank you so much!
      I am so glad - All the best to you!!!

  2. Thanks for posting, Oindree. A critique:

    I think your cover letter is about 200 words too long. Your relevant experience is buried in the second paragraph and not supported with pertinent details. Something like "I used Python and R programming skills to parse, sort, and analyze raw radio emissions detected during the ANITA mission launched in Antarctica in Dec 201X. From these emission events, we were able to infer important physics that occurs during the formation cosmic rays, which are among THE MOST ENERGETIC EVENTS IN THE UNIVERSE!"

    Third paragraph isn't doing very much work. Forth paragraph... Ok, I agree that is an accomplishment, but it isn't really relevant for a programming position. If it were a position that applied electronics knowledge, such as an electrical engineer, I would leave this in.

    You'll get'em next time!

    1. Yep yep I talk about THE mistake but certainly more flaws can be found in there! Thanks for your thoughts and comments! I figured it might be helpful for people to also see an unsuccessful application :)


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