Assignment Cover Letter Examples

Academic Cover Letters

When you're applying for a faculty position with a college or university, the cover letter is your first chance to make a strong impression as a promising researcher and teacher. Below you'll find some strategies for presenting your qualifications effectively in an academic context.

Distinctions between Academic and Business Cover Letters

A cover letter for an academic job has a function similar to one for a business job, but the content differs significantly in quantity and kind. While the general advice for business cover letters—such as tailoring your letter for the specific job and selling your strengths—still applies, a cover letter for an academic position should be long enough to highlight in some detail your accomplishments during your graduate education in research, teaching, departmental service, and so on. The typical letter is thus usually one and a half to two pages long, but not more than two—roughly five to eight paragraphs.

The First Paragraph

In the opening of 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.

Tailoring for Your Audience

In an academic context knowing your audience means reading the job notice carefully and knowing the type of institution to which you are applying. Most graduate students have studied a broad range of material within their discipline before specializing in a narrow field for the dissertation project. Since it is rare to find a job notice specifying your exact qualifications, you need to emphasize those aspects of your graduate training that seem particularly relevant to the position advertised.

  • Job notice: If you've written a political science dissertation on populism in early twentieth-century US national politics, you probably won't respond to a notice seeking a specialist in international politics during the Cold War. But you may wish to apply for a position teaching twentieth-century US political parties and movements. In this case you would want to stress the relevance of your dissertation to the broad context of twentieth-century US politics, even though the study focuses narrowly on the pre-World War I period. You might also highlight courses taken, presentations given, or other evidence of your expertise that corresponds to the job notice.
  • Type of institution: Often the job notice will provide a brief description of the college or university, indicating such factors as size, ownership (public, private), affiliation (religious, nonsectarian), geography (urban, suburban, rural), and so on. These factors will influence the kind of information emphasized in your letter. For example, for a job at a small liberal arts college that focuses on undergraduate teaching, you would emphasize your teaching experience and pedagogical philosophy early in the letter before mentioning your dissertation. On the other hand, for a job at a large research university you would provide at least one detailed paragraph describing your dissertation early in the letter, even indicating your plans for future research, before mentioning your teaching and other experience.

Other Advice

If you're still working on your dissertation, you should mention somewhere in the letter when you expect to be awarded the Ph.D., even being as specific as to mention how many chapters have been completed and accepted, how many are in draft version, and what your schedule for completion is. Last-paragraph tips include the following:

  • Mention your contact information, including a phone number where you can be reached if you will be away during a holiday break.
  • If you will be attending an upcoming major professional conference in your field, such as the MLA convention for language and literature professionals, indicate that you will be available for an interview there. Be sure to mention that you are available for telephone or campus-visit interviews as well.
  • If you have some special connection to the school, type of institution, or region, such as having attended the school as an undergraduate or having grown up in the area, you may wish to mention that information briefly at some point.
  • Mention your willingness to forward upon request additional materials such as writing samples, teaching evaluations, and letters of recommendation.

Job seekers at Purdue University may find value in the Purdue Career Wiki.

Your final assignment for this semester will be the cover letter that will introduce the pieces in your portfolio and allow you to reflect on your development as a writer over the course of this semester. This letter should be typed as a single-spaced letter in block format (paragraphs aligned at the left margin, with an extra line between paragraphs) that is addressed to the members of the Portfolio Committee who will be reading your portfolio.

You may want to begin the essay with an introduction to who you were as a writer as you came into this class, maybe something brief about your background and how you assessed your strengths and weaknesses, maybe something about what your assumptions had been about the class or about college writing in general.

The body of your letter should discuss the three essays you’ve included in the portfolio (the logical way to set this up would be one paragraph per essay). Explain why you chose each essay and how each illustrates your abilities as a writer. In essence, the letter should at least in part be an argument that you’ve achieved the course objectives of English 11. (You may want to check the syllabus here.) Be sure to consider and discuss the applicable criteria of focus, development, organization, mechanics, and research skills that the committee will be evaluating. Be sure to refer to specific parts/places in each essay. For at least one of the essays (perhaps the one that gave you the most difficulties), trace the essay’s evolution through the stages of generating topic and details, drafting, revision, and proofreading.

Your conclusion (a final attempt to sway your readers) might include any recognitions you’ve made about yourself as a writer and any changes you’ve made (or plan to make) in your writing process.

An important reminder: Your letter itself should also serve as evidence of your writing competence in its focus, development, and organization.

Length guidelines: I expect that a well-developed letter would be at least 500 words or so.

Student samples from previous semester:

Amanda

Rachael

Nicole

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