The simple cover letter can mean the difference between getting a job and never being considered.
Every job advertisement for faculty positions will ask for a ‘cover letter’ to accompany other application materials. As simple as this sounds, the cover letter can easily make or break your application.
In fact, I would estimate that in my 28 years in hiring and evaluating faculty, the cover letter was the most critical determinant of whether an applicant got an interview or not. As such, there are three things you have to avoid when writing your cover letter:
First, don’t be fooled by the seeming simplicity of the cover letter. Many candidates write a few sentences about “please accept the attached materials for the position”, sign the letter, and send it off. That type of cover letter dooms your application to the ‘black hole of applications’ where documents go in and are never considered again.
Secondly, never use a ‘shotgun’ cover letter, a generic letter that you automatically attach to your CV when you submit. This approach will also automatically send your cover letter to the black hole.
Thirdly, your cover letter should be between 1-2 pages for a beginning faculty position (and longer for more advanced positions, but that’s a topic for another blog!). If it is too long, the cover letter will bore the Search Committee members (plus, they’re busy – they don’t have time to read 50 long cover letters!). If it is too short, well, we’ve already talked about the black hole of applications.
Your cover letter MUST be personalized for each specific position you are applying for.
Your cover letter MUST be personalized for each specific position you are applying for. While we talk at great length about cover letters in Finding the Best Faculty Job for You (and even give you examples), your cover letter has some specific points it must include for your application to avoid the black hole.
These points are critical because you have to remember that your cover letter and your CV are often the only documents that the Search Committee will have to determine whether you qualify for the position. As such, your cover letter has to hit all the points that your CV doesn’t hit.
In short, your cover letter should hit the following points:
1. Why you are interested in this position?
2. Your research area, past findings, future plans, and how you think you fit in the research portfolio of the department.
3. A summary of your teaching experience with a bit of your philosophy, past evaluations, and how you’ll work to become a better teacher.
4. A summary of your professional service activities and philosophy (i.e. what type of departmental citizen you will become.)
5. Summary and closing.
Your cover letter should be between 1-2 pages for a beginning faculty position.