Cover Letters that Win

Cover letters are an important part of any search in higher education careers.  Why?  Because with the number of applicants pursuing any higher education job, the amount of time that the search committee chair, or any other hiring individual has to review applications is limited, at best!  The cover letter is often the first thing the search committee reviews.

There are some key points to incorporate into every cover letter:

  • Customize every letter to the specific higher education job you’re applying to;
  • Specifically name the academic position you’re applying to;
  • Always address your letter to a specific person;
  • Do not reiterate everything that is included in your resume;
  • Highlight specific achievements, especially as they pertain to the academic position you’re applying for;
  • Provide a brief summary of what you offer to this higher education job by illustrating a level of confidence and competence in your ability to perform the job, without sounding arrogant;
  • Avoid statements that indicate your rationale for applying to this opportunity is all about you (e.g., I’m looking for more money; an easier commute; an easier job; I like the travel opportunities with this job; it’s closer to where my significant other lives, and so on);
  • Close by indicating your willingness to follow up with the hiring individual.

When responding electronically to an academic position posting, incorporate your cover letter into the email.  That is, do not attach a cover letter (word document) to the email.  Make the email your cover letter and attach your resume to that email.

Finally, prior to sending, proof-read and spell check your letter (as well as your resume).  Ask a family member or friend to proof-read your cover letter and review for grammatical and punctuation errors.  Competence can be stated in words, but it is also demonstrated in one’s writing style.

John McCarthy is Associate Dean for the College of Education, at Kutztown University, Kutztown, PA.

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