Cover Letter

Cover Letter

The cover letter is your first chance to make a strong impression as a promising researcher and teacher. A typical cover letter is about one to two pages long (do not send a longer letter – people will not read it thoroughly) and should include the following:

Opening Paragraph

In opening 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.

Main Body of Letter

The main body of the letter, which will consist of 2 to 3 paragraphs, needs to be tailored to the specific position that is being advertised and the academic institute that is seeking to hire. Most graduate students have studied a broad range of material within their discipline before specializing in a narrower field for the PhD dissertation. Since it is rare to find a job notice specifying your exact qualifications, you need to emphasize those areas of your expertise that seem particularly relevant to the position advertised. You also need to emphasize which of your skills are likely to be most appealing to the academic institute itself. For example, for a job at a small liberal arts college that focuses on undergraduate teaching, you should emphasize your relevant teaching experience and pedagogical philosophy before mentioning your relevant research qualifications (1 to 2 paragraphs). On the other hand, for a job at a large research university you
should provide at least one detailed paragraph describing your PhD work, and its relevance to the advertised position -- even indicating your plans for future research, before mentioning your teaching and other experience (2 to 3 paragraphs). If you have any teaching or research materials available on the web, you can refer to them.

Other things to consider

You should mention any leadership roles you have assumed as a graduate student and any awards that you have received.

If you're still working on your dissertation, you should mention when you expect to be awarded the Ph.D.

If you have some special connection to the institute, such as having attended the school as an undergraduate or having grown up in the area, you may wish to mention that also.

Final Paragraph

Refer the reader to the materials that you have enclosed with the cover letter for more information about your qualifications, including research and teaching statements. Mention your willingness to forward upon request additional materials such as copies of publications, teaching evaluations, and letters of recommendation (if you have not already been asked to provide the names of referees). Conclude with a statement such as “I look forward to hearing from you”, which clearly gives the job-search committee the responsibility to contact you.