Academic Cover Letters
When you're applying for a faculty position with a college or university, the cover letter is your first chance to make a strong impression as a promising researcher and teacher. Below you'll find some strategies for presenting your qualifications effectively in an academic context.
Distinctions between Academic and Business Cover Letters
A cover letter for an academic job has a function similar to one for a business job, but the content differs significantly in quantity and kind. While the general advice for business cover letters—such as tailoring your letter for the specific job and selling your strengths—still applies, a cover letter for an academic position should be long enough to highlight in some detail your accomplishments during your graduate education in research, teaching, departmental service, and so on. The typical letter is thus usually one and a half to two pages long, but not more than two—roughly five to eight paragraphs.
The First Paragraph
In the opening of your letter you need to convey some basic information, such as what specific position you are applying for (using the title given in the job notice) and where you learned of the opening. Since a cover letter is a kind of persuasive writing (persuading a hiring committee to include you on a list of candidates for further review), the first paragraph of your letter should also make the initial claim as to why you are a strong candidate for the position.
Tailoring for Your Audience
In an academic context knowing your audience means reading the job notice carefully and knowing the type of institution to which you are applying. Most graduate students have studied a broad range of material within their discipline before specializing in a narrow field for the dissertation project. Since it is rare to find a job notice specifying your exact qualifications, you need to emphasize those aspects of your graduate training that seem particularly relevant to the position advertised.
- Job notice: If you've written a political science dissertation on populism in early twentieth-century US national politics, you probably won't respond to a notice seeking a specialist in international politics during the Cold War. But you may wish to apply for a position teaching twentieth-century US political parties and movements. In this case you would want to stress the relevance of your dissertation to the broad context of twentieth-century US politics, even though the study focuses narrowly on the pre-World War I period. You might also highlight courses taken, presentations given, or other evidence of your expertise that corresponds to the job notice.
- Type of institution: Often the job notice will provide a brief description of the college or university, indicating such factors as size, ownership (public, private), affiliation (religious, nonsectarian), geography (urban, suburban, rural), and so on. These factors will influence the kind of information emphasized in your letter. For example, for a job at a small liberal arts college that focuses on undergraduate teaching, you would emphasize your teaching experience and pedagogical philosophy early in the letter before mentioning your dissertation. On the other hand, for a job at a large research university you would provide at least one detailed paragraph describing your dissertation early in the letter, even indicating your plans for future research, before mentioning your teaching and other experience.
If you're still working on your dissertation, you should mention somewhere in the letter when you expect to be awarded the Ph.D., even being as specific as to mention how many chapters have been completed and accepted, how many are in draft version, and what your schedule for completion is. Last-paragraph tips include the following:
- Mention your contact information, including a phone number where you can be reached if you will be away during a holiday break.
- If you will be attending an upcoming major professional conference in your field, such as the MLA convention for language and literature professionals, indicate that you will be available for an interview there. Be sure to mention that you are available for telephone or campus-visit interviews as well.
- If you have some special connection to the school, type of institution, or region, such as having attended the school as an undergraduate or having grown up in the area, you may wish to mention that information briefly at some point.
- Mention your willingness to forward upon request additional materials such as writing samples, teaching evaluations, and letters of recommendation.
Job seekers at Purdue University may find value in the Purdue Career Wiki.
This example of a teacher cover letter was written by Martin Buckland, Resume Expert for Monster.ca.
Jill Buckingham, M.Ed.
2205 Wiarton Way, Mississauga, Ontario L5L 3Z9
Phone: 905.668.9999 Cell: 416.668.9999
E mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
January 18, 201X
Human Resources Manager
Pilgram School Board
123 Main Street
Pilgram, Ontario L0L 2B4
Dear Sir or Madam:
It is with immediate interest that I contact you regarding the Elementary Teacher position as advertised on Monster.ca. I note with interest that you are seeking a teaching professional who encourages academic excellence, initiates self-confidence and independent thinking across the student population. Count me in! I am the perfect candidate!
While secure in my current appointment as a Special Education Teacher at Acorn College in Mississauga, Ontario, I am actively seeking to relocate to Pilgram, a town where I believe I can make a notable teaching contribution.
During my two distinct teaching assignments with Acorn College, I have enjoyed teaching elementary and special education students. I am skilled at developing and implementing stimulating lesson plans, administering and evaluating the Ontario Curriculum Exams and conducting parent-teacher meetings. Please note that early in my career I was a Curriculum Writer for the Ontario Ministry of Education, a major component of this curriculum exists today.
I am a team player who develops and maintains a strong rapport with students, parents and faculty. I am renowned by my peers for developing unique and memorable lesson plans.
My educational background includes a Master of Education in Elementary Teaching and includes a Certification in Special Needs Education.
My attached resume provides you with a synopsis of my career. I can bring value-add to the Pilgram School Board with my proven ability to help students achieve high academic levels through positive motivation.
I believe it will be mutually beneficial for us to meet and discuss this intriguing Elementary Teacher position. After our interview, I am sure you will agree that I possess the knowledge, skills, dedication and caring attitude to successfully fulfill the advertised mandate.