Knowing how to write an academic cover letter is essential because it introduces you to an employer in academia. In fact, this one of the most important documents in the hiring process. If you’re interested in a teaching or research position at a university, you’ll have to send an academic covering letter along with your CV as part of your application.
Let’s dive right in.
What Should Be in a Cover Letter?
An academic cover letter is a document that introduces you to the hiring committee of an organization. It is a detailed overview of your academic background, work experience in academia, and teaching philosophy (if relevant to the post). A cover letter for an academic job is drafted in such a way as to show how your research interests and/or teaching methods align with the vision of the institution you’re applying to.
An academic covering letter is a form of persuasive writing that serves the following functions:
- Express your interest in the post based on the research you’ve done about the institution.
- Explain your reason for applying.
- Prove your writing and language skills through a clear articulation of your goals and your past accomplishments.
- Demonstrate you’re a fitting candidate for the post.
- Encourage the search committee to read your academic CV and consider you for the post.
How Long Is a Cover Letter?
While a business cover letter does not run beyond one page, an academic cover letter in the UK and US has to be long enough to contain detailed descriptions of your academic proficiency during your postgraduate education, teaching/research experiences, and future plans. As a result, academic cover letters typically run between one and a half pages and two pages in length. The contents of the letter generally are divided up into five to eight paragraphs.
So, the point of similarity between business and academic covering letters:
Both types must be tailored to the requirements of the position you’re applying for.
The point of difference:
The length and the contents.
It helps to get a clear idea about these details before learning how to write an academic cover letter.
We’ll move on to that next.
How to Address a Cover Letter
At the top left-hand corner, write the date, followed by the name of the individual who’s hiring, their designation, the name of the institution, and its complete address.
It goes without saying that you must not resort to informal salutations. Begin the letter with a professional address to the head of subject/department/school, the members of the search community, or the individual whose name was listed in the job posting.
Here’s a real-world example:
How to Ace a Cover Letter
In this section, we’ll dig deep into the content and the accompanying tips on how to write a cover letter.
Begin your cover letter with the specific details of the academic job you’re applying for. Don’t forget to mention where you came across the job opening.
I am pleased to attach my application for the post of Teaching Associate in European and International History (118368) as advertised on the jobs.ac.uk website.
This is the space to introduce yourself and explain why you’re applying to the specific position. Remember that this is your opportunity to present yourself as a strong contender for the job on offer.
How can you show that convincingly to the search committee?
We’ve got some guiding questions to help you shape your first paragraph:
- What is your current post (i.e., Doctoral Candidate, Teaching Assistant, Lecturer, etc.)?
- Why are you interested?
- What makes you the ideal candidate for this position?
If you’re writing a PhD cover letter, you should include a thesis statement to outline your rationale for applying.
A good portion of your cover letter’s length should be reserved for writing about your academic qualifications and accomplishments. Following these details, you should elaborate upon your research experience and future plans (if it’s for a research post), describe your teaching pedagogy (if it’s a cover letter for a teaching position), or both (if it’s a cover letter for a lecturer position).
Don’t forget that you need to present yourself as the best candidate for the position. So, include specific examples of your teaching methodology and learning and research outcomes. In order to stand out in the competition, you must consider what qualities you can bring to the table that most other applicants can’t.
These might include:
- Higher research profile
- Expertise in the field
- A blend of working experiences both in academia and in the industry
- Unique achievements in your current role
- Possibility for professional collaboration with members of the department
In a PhD covering letter, you should capitalise on your research experience and your research project’s importance and potential impact. Another thing to focus on is the unique contribution you expect to make to the field.
If it’s a teaching cover letter you’re writing, describe your teaching philosophy and how it fits with the institution’s mission. Additionally, highlight some of the tried and tested teaching strategies that you can implement in the classroom. Finally, any positive student feedback will boost your chances.
Take this space to demonstrate your commitment and enthusiasm for the position. Remember that the body paragraphs of a cover letter for an academic job should not be a plain summary of your CV.
In the final paragraph, mention your readiness to produce additional documents (such as writing samples and letters of recommendation) should they be requested.
You should indicate that you anticipate follow-ups in the form of a telephonic interview or a conversation with the search committee. This serves as the call to action and demonstrates your interest in taking the process further.
The question is:
How to sign off a cover letter?
Thank the committee for their time and consideration. Then, add a professional closure and write your full name.
Here’s an example of a closing paragraph:
How to Write an Academic Cover Letter: Dos and Don’ts
Remember that a cover letter is a persuasive document that should make a strong case for you and aid your hiring process in academia. You can write a great cover letter for academic jobs by adhering to some simple dos and dont’s:
1. Research Extensively
Besides reading the job requirements, you must research the institution thoroughly. Learn about the culture of the institution:
- Is it teaching-intensive, or does it favour experiential learning?
- Is it research-focused or teaching-focused?
- Research the mission and religious affiliations (if any) of the institution.
The second part of your research should be centred on the department you’re applying to:
- Does the department encourage interdisciplinary work?
- Who is on the search committee?
- Does the department favour specific teaching methodologies?
- Is the department seeking to fill a vacancy, or is it a new position?
Doing extensive research on the institution helps you to tailor your academic covering letter accordingly.
2. Include specific examples to emphasize your accomplishments and direct the employer towards your CV for details.
3. Mention your most relevant or current jobs first to drive the impact.
4. Be clear and keep a note of enthusiasm and positivity throughout.
5. If your application entails a career change, explain your rationale for that.
6. Keep your paragraphs short and use a consistent font size of 11 or 12.
7. Proofread your document several times before submitting it.
1. Summarise your CV in your cover letter.
2. Miss out on examples for each skill you state.
3. Write generalised statements for why you’d like to work in an institution.
4. Make use of academic jargon that is specific to your field.
5. Make demands of your employer – concentrate on what you bring to the table.
You can find many excellent guides on how to write an academic cover letter out there. We especially like this academic cover letter sample on jobs.ac.uk.
The bottom line is:
Your cover letter and CV should work together to capture the employer’s interest, identify you as a serious candidate for the job, and persuade the recruiter that you are worth an interview. Recruiters often have to go through as many as 200-300 job applications to invite around 4 to 6 people to an interview. So, you really need to make yours shine.