Introduction: How to Write a Cover Letter
What is a "Cover Letter" you say?
Well a cover letter is often the most important piece of your application for a job. While your resume may show that you have the necessary qualifications for a job, your cover letter argues why are you the perfect person to hire.
Step 1: Paragraph One
introduction. Mention the job your applying for and where you saw it advertised. Since your curriculum vitae will give information about your degree (where and when), dissertation director, fellowships, prizes and so on, you don't need to mention them in your letter. Doing so takes up valuable space in the letter and, more importantly, marks you as a graduate student. Try to sound like a professional, someone who has already put graduate school behind you. The selection committee will look at your vitae and see all these details in a more readable format. The same goes for areas of specialization.
Step 2: Paragraph Two
dissertation. don't bother with the directer's name; its in the vitae. So is the list of publications that came out of the dissertation. Don't use the letter to recapitulate anything thats in the vitae, except the title of the dissertation. This paragraph is critical. Try to convey the main idea of your project, the originality of your work, the writers you cover, and the approach you take. One nice detail of a chapter will give readers something to hold onto. You may also address future research in this or a later paragraph.
Step 3: Paragraph Three
teaching experience and philosophy. Mention your philosophy, perhaps a brief example of how you put it to work, and special courses you would like to teach or do.
Step 4: Paragraph Four
final paragraph. Tell what you have enclosed, whether a dossier is on its way, how the school should get one if it needs one, whether you will be available at MLA (which you should). Don't spend too much time thanking them.
Step 5: Do's and Don'ts
- Address your cover letter to a specific person.
- Use appropriate titles, such as Dr., Ms., Mr., for the chair of the search committee, even though you know that several people will read your letter. If the advertisement stipulates that the letter should be sent to the "Search Committee," use "Dear Committee Members" as the salutation.
- Use standard letter format. See the Sample Cover Letter as a reference or consult a good sourcebook on letter writing.
- Be specific about the position for which you are applying. Use the same language that was used in the advertisement.
- Be organized. Think of how you will present your information.
- Demonstrate enthusiasm.
- Research. Know something about the schools where you are applying. Visit web sites to gain specific information that might be pertinent to the positions, particularly if it will allow you to mention courses that you would be qualified to teach or in which you have an interest.
- Vary your letter from school to school although the variation might be minimal. Remember that each school/job is unique.
- Ask your advisor to read a solid draft of your letter and give you feedback. He/she has probably served on search committees before and give you some advice on whether your letter would make the short list.
- Ask someone whom you trust to read the final draft before it goes out.
- EDIT. EDIT. EDIT. AND PROOF. Your letter must be perfect.
- Keep a copy of each cover letter for your records.
- Apply for jobs for which you are obviously not qualified.
- Begin your letter with "My name is..."
- Ask rhetorical questions, such as "Do you know why I would be a strong asset to your department?"
- Use exclamation points in your letter.
- Use odd fonts, flashy colored paper, or an unusual format.
- Repeat your entire vita.
- Exaggerate your qualifications or be dishonest.
- Make your letter more than one page.
Step 6: Tips
1. Send it to someone by name-get the name of the person who is in charge or the person who will be interviewing you.
2. If you are unable to determine a name of the person in charge begin with: Dear Sir or Madam:
3. No mistakes---Make sure you get the person's name and title, organization name, and address correct!
4. Be certain there are no spelling or grammatical errors before you send it!
5. Be friendly and professional not pushy! The purpose of the letter is to request an interview not demand one!
6. Use good-quality paper that matches your resume paper-and a matching envelope if possible.
7. Be clear about your reason for writing---your goal is to get an interview, so make sure you ask for one!
8. Do not be too wordy-managers are busy people and don't have time to read a letter that never seems to get to the point---Be brief and direct.
9. Explain what is special about you-sell yourself. Give highlights of your background that show why you are qualified for the position.
10. Make sure to thank the person for his/her time in your closing paragraph.
11. Have a career counselor proofread your cover letter. Perfection is the goal!