The Academic Cover Letter

Almost all academic positions will require you to submit a cover letter with your application and CV. Also called a “letter of application” or a “letter of transmittal,” the cover letter allows you to introduce yourself, add a personal context to your CV, and show that you’ve done your homework on the department you wish to join. A well crafted letter will give you a chance to set aspects of your background and identity alongside the elements of your CV that you want to emphasize, all while making connections between the needs of the department and your interests and abilities.

There is no standard format for an academic cover letter. The guidelines provided here are meant to get you started by demonstrating some basic elements of a good cover letter. Students are encouraged to check with faculty and other students in their department or discipline to discuss specific conventions in your field. Also, the content and format may vary slightly depending on the type of position you are seeking.

A Good Cover Letter Should:

  • Be tailored to each specific job.
  • Include a brief description of why you are interested in this particular job and why you think the search committee should be interested in you for this specific job.
  • Indicate that the applicant knows something about the institution and is writing to apply for their specific job, not for any and every job.
  • When possible, address your cover letter to a particular person, usually the head of the search committee or the chair of the department to which you’re applying. If no contact was listed in the job announcement, call the department and ask to whom you should address all correspondence.
  • Explain why you are writing and where you learned of the position in the first paragraph
  • Specify the position that you are interested in, as many institutions put out calls for multiple positions at the same time. State your interest in the position.
  • Show the employer that you are a good match for the position. Research counts! Knowing how to “read” the job ad, and doing your research about the institution, will help you figure out what to emphasize in your cover letter.
  • Contain a summary of your research experience, and your teaching experience, depending on the job description.
  • Include a summary of your dissertation if you are applying to a research institution.
  • Include information on your teaching experience, if teaching is key.
  • Mention the faculty committee you served on, if the search committee is looking for colleagues who will contribute to their community as well as teach and research.
  • End with information about how you can be contacted. Reiterate your phone and/or email address. State that you are available for an interview.

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