How to Write an Effective Academic Cover Letter

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Everyone knows that a CV or a resume is a must-have document when applying for a job—those hiring want to know about your education and experience to determine whether you’re the right person for the position. However, most people focus only on their CV, neglecting their cover letter and thus offering an introduction to themselves that is less than impressive. While cover letters are not always mandatory today, it is always a good idea to include one—it gives you another chance to sell yourself to the employer, and it may also give you an edge over a competitor.

Your cover letter is the first impression a recruiter will get of you, long before you get the opportunity to introduce yourself in an interview. It gives you a strong start, allowing you to present yourself as someone the institution would like to hire. Depending on the time and effort you put into writing your cover letter, it can act as either a deterrent or an enticement for a hiring manager to read your entire CV. If they are unimpressed with your cover letter, they will likely toss your application aside and move on to the next candidate. In short, this document truly matters.

To craft a cover letter that produces results, you have to know what to include and how to structure it. We’ll take you through the steps of composing an effective cover letter so you can maximize your chances of success when applying for academic positions. If you feel you require professional assistance with either your cover letter or your CV, check out our academic services

The main takeaway: Customize your cover letter

Our top tip is to customize each and every cover letter you write. Hiring managers can tell when an applicant is submitting the same generic letter for multiple jobs, and they take a dim view of it. They want the best person for the job, so putting in a little extra effort is worth it. 

Review the job posting and make sure you mirror the language used in it. This kills two birds with one stone: Not only do you show the hiring manager that you’ve read the job description carefully, but you also incorporate all the right keywords to get past the applicant tracking system (ATS), which automatically filters CVs and resumes based on their perceived relevance.

What to include in your cover letter

A cover letter generally contains a salutation and three paragraphs. Below, we list what each paragraph should include to entice the hiring committee to pay special attention to your CV. Keep your cover letter to one page in length since it acts as a short summary of why you are an ideal candidate—your CV is the place for a detailed breakdown of your qualifications and experience. If your cover letter is too long, the hiring manager may deem you an ineffective communicator or someone who likes to toot their own horn, and neither bodes well for your job prospects.

The salutation

Before we jump into the heart of the cover letter, let’s start at the very beginning—the salutation. Avoid using a generic salutation such as “To whom it may concern”; instead, address the person who will receive your cover (for example, the chair of the department), using their name and title. This shows respect and attention to detail, telling the recipient that you are interested enough in their institution to do a little extra digging. A direct address takes little effort but is often neglected by candidates, so if you include a personalized greeting, you’ll automatically pull ahead of the crowd. 

The first paragraph

The first sentence of the cover letter should specify that you are writing to be considered for an open position. Make sure you name the position you’re applying for.

The rest of the paragraph is an introduction to who you are as a professional and the reasons the institution should hire you. Briefly describe your current or previous position, explain why you are interested in this new opportunity, and highlight what makes you the best fit. Keep it relatively short, but be clear as to why you are an ideal candidate. If you can sell yourself with clear, concise writing, you’ll also be showcasing your excellent communication skills.

The second paragraph

In the second paragraph, you can provide more detail about your qualifications. You’ll want to limit the cover letter to one page, so choose only the experience or knowledge you consider most relevant to the role. Having too many qualifications to choose from is a good thing—it’s okay if you’re leaving out less relevant details. Different institutions have different priorities, so it is critical that you customize the qualifications you highlight in each cover letter you write. In some, you may want to emphasize your teaching experience, whereas in others, you may want to focus more on your research. 

While you should use the same language as in the job posting and point out the qualifications listed there (as long as you have them, of course), you can also mention additional experience or expertise that you think would be valuable to the institution. After all, you are relatively free to provide whatever information you wish the hiring manager to get. For example, the institution may have a stellar teaching faculty, but it has not received many large grants. If you have been successful with big, competitive grants, mention it in your cover letter.

The third paragraph

The third paragraph should be the final one, and it is a great place to highlight your major achievements. In just a couple of sentences, summarize your most impressive accomplishments, be it a prestigious grant you obtained, a publication in a top journal, or an academic committee you chaired to improve educational instruction. Pack in as many valuable details as you can while keeping the paragraph succinct.

The sign-off

Of course, you’ll need to end your cover letter on a polite and respectful note. Don’t overdo it, though—simply thank the hiring manager for their time and consideration and state that you look forward to further communications about the position. Wrap up your cover letter with a polite and formal sign-off, such as “Sincerely,” and provide your full name and any titles you may have.

Where to get help with your cover letter and CV

It can be difficult to take all your knowledge and experience and package them into a great CV and cover letter. That’s why hiring a professional to help with these essential documents can be a worthwhile investment. You get an expert third-party opinion on how to enhance your cover letter and CV, including tips on what to write, what to leave out, and how to present it all in the best way possible.

If you find yourself unsure how to effectively condense your expertise and experience, have us create a powerful cover letter and CV for your next academic position. 

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