A cover letter is your chance to make a good first impression with potential employers as well as to show that you have effective communication skills. A strong cover letter will help to move your application forward so that a future employer will want to know more about you.

Meet with Career Services for general feedback and to fine tune your resumes and cover letters for the specific opportunities you seek.

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Cover letters for Higher Education Candidates

Always include a cover letter when you send your vita to an employer. A cover letter can generally be written in four or five paragraphs and limited to one page. Your letter should be both interesting and well written. This letter will be mailed to the potential employer with the vita, so there should be strong coordination between the two. There is no one rigid formula for writing a good cover letter, but here are some suggestions:

Paragraph #1

  • State the position you are applying for.
  • Note how you came to know about the position. Generally it will have been listed on the web, in a newspaper ad, or in a periodical. If you have heard about it directly from another person whose name they might recognize (particularly if it is someone notable as a scholar), note the name of the person who told you of the opening.
  • Make a specific statement of your qualifications-your degree (earned or anticipated) and a brief overview of your tie to the area of the opening. This statement in the first paragraph allows the reader to discard applicants who are not qualified for the position.
Paragraph #2
  • Describe your dissertation--its focus, its methodology, conclusions drawn. You should be able to do this in no more than five sentences.
Paragraph #3
  • Briefly describe your teaching (or other relevant) experience, again in four or five sentences.
Paragraph #4
  • This paragraph might be a short view of your research interests.
  • This paragraph might be a short explication of a special project that ties to your area of academic study or special skills.
Paragraph #5
  • Use this paragraph to make a brief-but-graceful exit from the letter. Note that you will be glad to provide further materials or additional information.
  • Note that your vita is enclosed and that it contains both a phone number and an e-mail address where you can be reached.
  • Politely express your willingness to meet for an interview at conferences or on campus.
DO:
  • Make sure that your credentials file is complete. Remember that the credentials file will be confidential and must be sealed. It should be mailed to the same address as the cover letter and vita.
  • Address your cover letter to a specific person.
  • Use appropriate titles, such as Dr., Ms., Mr., for the chair of the search committee, even though you know that your letter will be read by several people. If the advertisement stipulates that the letter should be sent to "Search Committee," use "Dear Committee Members" as the salutation.
  • Use standard letter format. If you don't know what it is, find a good sourcebook. (I recommend WRITERS INC, a handbook for writing.)
  • Be specific about the position you are applying for. Use the same language that was used in the ad.
  • Be organized. Think of how you will present your information.
  • Know something about the schools where you are applying. Visit web sites to gain specific information that might be pertinent to the positions, particularly if it will allow you to mention courses that you would be qualified to teach or in which you have an interest.
  • Vary your letter from school to school although the variation might be minimal. Remember that each school/job is unique.
  • Send your letter via overnight or priority mail if you must meet an immediate deadline.
  • Ask your advisor to read a solid draft of your letter and give you feedback. He/she has probably served on search committees before.
  • Ask someone whom you trust to read the final draft before it goes out.
  • EDIT-EDIT-EDIT!!! Your letter must be perfect.
  • Keep a copy of each cover letter for your records.
AVOID:
  • Applying for jobs for which you are obviously not qualified.
  • Beginning your letter with "My name is.."
  • Asking rhetorical questions, such as "Do you know why I would be a strong asset to your department?"
  • Using exclamation marks in the text of your letter.
  • Using odd fonts, flashy colored paper, or an unusual format.
  • Repeating your entire vita.
  • Exaggeration, bragging, name dropping, or being dishonest.