A cover letter is central to your academic job application. It allows you to explain the narrative of your academic career and demonstrate the cohesion of your application packet. Since it is often the first document read by the hiring committee, the cover letter acts as an initial writing sample and an introduction to your other application materials (CV, teaching philosophy, writing sample, letters of recommendation, etc.). The letter must therefore go through numerous drafts in order to show the hiring committee that you are a strong writer and a good fit for the position. Be sure to ask for feedback on these drafts from your advisor, professors in your field, colleagues, or a consultant at the Writers Workshop before including it in your application.
Keeping your audience and tone in mind is essential in crafting your academic cover letter. Even if you are still a graduate student finishing your dissertation, you should not present yourself as such. To persuade the committee that you are the ideal candidate for the position, write your cover letter as a potential colleague (rather than from the perspective of a graduate student or someone desperate for the job). Since most hiring committees are diverse in terms of areas of expertise, be sure to explain your terms, minimize jargon, and tie technical points to the larger aims of your work. Finally, it is especially important to cater your cover letter to the position by addressing all of the qualifications listed in the job ad. Connecting your experience to the institution you are applying to will help show your enthusiasm for the position and demonstrate how you will use your knowledge and skills to benefit the institution as a whole.
- 1 ½ – 2 pages, single-spaced (STEM letters should not exceed 1 page)
- 1-inch margins
- Font 12 point (possibly 11 point)
- Minimal white space
- Begin with “Dear Members of the Search Committee:” or address the letter to the individual indicated in the job ad
Content by Paragraph
An academic cover letter typically follows the 5-7 paragraph format outlined below. This structure may vary depending on your discipline, where you are in your career, and what type of job you are applying to.
- Start with the full name of the institution/position (“I write to indicate my interest in the position of X at Y institution”)
- Introduce yourself
- Your current status (ABD, PhD, Instructor)
- Your defense date and/or graduation date
- Include 1-2 sentences about why you are applying for this position
- Be sincere and specific by responding to the qualifications listed in the job ad
Dissertation / Current Research
- Introduce your topic and its significance:
- How/what it contributes to your field
- Major themes/areas/issues covered
- Field-specific content
- Your conclusions/outcomes
Future / Related Research
- Show that you have a coherent research trajectory by describing current/future publications (journal articles, articles in edited collections, plan in place to turn your dissertation into a book, etc.)
- Demonstrate your productivity and commitment to a broader research agenda
- Document your path to tenure (if applicable) and success at their institution
- May be 1-2 paragraphs, depending on type of position
- Abridged teaching philosophy statement
- Define terms as needed
- Connect to your research if applicable
- Provide examples showing how you demonstrate your teaching philosophy / pedagogical approach in the classroom (or plan to)
- Describe learning goals, projects and their purposes, classroom values, etc.
- Include classes you have taught as TA, Instructor, etc. or classes (appropriate to the institution) that you would like to teach
- For teaching-focused positions:
- Expand on the statement above in an additional paragraph
- Move these teaching paragraphs before the dissertation/research paragraphs
- Demonstrate that you are a collaborative colleague
- Show that you offer more to the department and institution than only research/teaching
- Avoid listing your service work–that’s already on your CV
- Highlight the work that contributes to your field, teaching, department, etc.
- Respond to job ad and institutional needs
- Usually short, ~3-4 sentences
- Reiterates your interest in the position and primary qualifications
- Provides logistical information
- When/how to expect any materials sent separately
- Some fields – availability for interview
- Some fields – contact information
- Again, sound like a future colleague!