7 tips for writing cover letters for faculty jobs

by Julie Dodd

Your letter of application (or cover letter) is a key part of the faculty job application process. The cover letter is how you introduce yourself to the search chair and the search committee. The letter should convey your interest (and enthusiasm) for the position and provide an overview of you, referring to your vitae and online portfolio where more information is provided.

Here are some general tips for writing a cover letter.

Tip #1 – Be sure to use the format for a business letter.

Because most of our communication is now done with email and social media, writing business letters is a new format for many who are applying for jobs. You can find many examples online. The Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab) provides tips for academic cover letters and a sample letter.

Tip #2 – In the first paragraph, indicate what specific job you are applying for.

Sometimes colleges or departments are hiring for more than one position, so you need to indicate the job title. [For example: I am applying for the position of assistant professor in new media.] Some jobs have a reference number. Be sure to include that job number.

Tip #3 – Your cover letter is strengthened if you can tie your interests and abilities to the specific job.

In your opening paragraph, you want to say why you are interested in this specific job. Research the curriculum offered, the faculty in the department and the kind of work being done in the program and include reference to those (as appropriate) in your letter.

Tip #4 – Your letter should contain paragraphs addressing specific areas.

  • Your teaching experience
  • Your research
  • Your professional experience
  • Your service

In your application, you are submitting your curriculum vitae, but your cover letter lets you provide highlights of each area. If you don’t have experience in one of those areas, then you would not include that in your letter. When you decide which faculty jobs to apply for, you are evaluating your own experience and abilities in the context of the job’s requirements. For some faculty positions, the emphasis is on teaching, and research experience isn’t necessary. For other faculty positions, research experience is the top priority.

Tip #5 – Your letter should be about one-and-a-half to two pages.

If your cover letter is less than a full page, you may come across as not being as serious about the job. I’ve seen cover letters that are more than two pages, but usually those letters are from candidates who are applying for an administrative position or endowed chair.

Tip #6 – Take advantage of the ability to tell more about yourself through a website or social media.

In a cover letter, you can include the URL to your online teaching portfolio or to a course you teach where you’ve posted course materials. You can include your Twitter handle. That online content lets you tell more about yourself and your abilities. That online content also conveys that you know how to use technology, which is important in so many teaching positions. But remember that if you include URLs or your Twitter handle that you need to keep information up-to-date and appropriate for review.

Tip #7 – Carefully edit your letter.

Don’t let your well organized and well written letter be diminished by grammatical errors or typos. You also should ask a trusted colleague, your thesis/dissertation chair, or a friend to read the letter and offer suggestions. If you are a graduate student, your university may have a writing center that offers assistance. For example, the University of Florida offers writing assistance for graduate students and faculty at the Writing Studio.

For more information about writing a cover letter for a faculty job position:

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a number of useful articles about the job application process. Some of those articles are from the early 2000s but are still valid in terms of the content and purpose of the cover letter. Here’s a good one with advice about the tone of your letter. Beyond the One-Page Cover Letter – Gary DeCoker

Guide for Writing Letters for Faculty Positions from the National Institutes of Health

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