Below is a general template for use when crafting a cover letter for academic teaching positions. Before getting started, you will also want to review the academic cover letter samples.
Optional – include header (similar to your resume and other supporting documents)
[Search committee mailing info, including department and address]
[Dear Professor _____________________, or Dear Search Committee Chair and Members:]
[Paragraph 1: simple introduction.]
I am writing to apply for the position of [official title] announced in the XXX [e.g., Chronicle of Higher Education]. I am completing a Ph.D. in XX from the [department name] at the University of California, Davis. I will defend my dissertation, "[dissertation title]” and expect to graduate in [month]. OR: I am finishing the first year of my postdoc with XX [your PI's name or in the lab of XX], where I am working on X, Y, and Z [briefly describe, but leave the bulk of the research description for the below sections].
[Paragraph 2: principal research area(s) and dissertation - this paragraph along with paragraph 3 would follow the introduction when applying for a faculty or teaching position within a R1 university emphasizing the research over the teaching. For Liberal Arts Colleges and State Universities, research and teaching paragraphs should be somewhat balanced in length. For teaching-only Community Colleges, a research statement might be included towards the bottom of the cover letter, but only in the context of staying on top of the discipline in order to perform more effectively as a teacher. ]
My principal research area is X [area here], with a focus on [focus area(s)]. [3-4 sentence summary of dissertation here]. I've used X method/technique/approach to explore W and Z.
[Paragraph 3: other research areas, contributions, and future directions - this paragraph would be included for R1, Liberal Arts College or State University.]
My immediate research priority is to expand this manuscript into a book. I will direct future research toward [1-2 sentences on next project]. [Add additional sentences on your broader research agenda, how you would apply this to your new institution].
[Paragraph 4: teaching experience and interests - this paragraph would follow the 1st paragraph when applying to a State University.]
During my [number] years at X [campus], I have taught [identify what you have taught, particularly as it relates to the institution you are applying]. [Add 2 or so sentences on any pedagogical training, innovative approaches you have taken in the classroom, technology you've used, areas you are particularly interested in exploring, and/or specific new class or seminars you would like to teach at their institution].
[Paragraph 5: closing.]
I have enclosed my CV, a writing sample, and a teaching philosophy state [or whatever they ask for…]. Three faculty recommendations will be mailed under separate cover [or by Interfolio, a dossier service]. I will attend the XX conference in [city] this year, and I can always be reached by phone or email. Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.
[your email] – include if you don’t use a header
[your phone number] – include if you don’t use a header
A couple of notes:
- The tone of the cover letter should be that of a potential colleague. It should showcase your knowledge, contribution to the discipline. The cover letter should be used to outline your academic accomplishments and to share a five year vision for where you are heading into the future.
- You want to present the perspective of an independent researcher and teacher, not simply a list the coursework and tasks you've completed as a graduate student or postdoc.
- Note that you do not have to separate your dissertation and other research interests (i.e. paragraphs 2 and 3).
- Understand the different missions of the institutions for which you are applying.
Adapted from a template provided by Robert P. Newcomb, Ph.D., Department of Spanish & Portuguese, UC Davis
Dear Search Committee
Perhaps this reflects my ignorance, but I was dismayed at some of the advice about writing cover letters. Some of it was excellent and practical -- don't emphasize your research when applying for a teaching position, do your homework about the institution, provide the most relevant information about your background etc. All of that is good.
This type of advice is what filled me with dismay:
Be sure to address the cover letter to a specific individualby name, even if no individual is named in the job ad or application instructions. Apparently, certain people, who are nameless, want candidates to seek out their identities so that the cover letter can be addressed to "Dear Ronald Zook" instead of "Dear Search Committee". If this information is not available on any webpage, applicants are supposed to make some phone calls.
Why do I hate this advice? I do not like the fact that someone on a hiring committee would really care about such a trivial issue. If you want the letter addressed to you by name, put your name somewhere prominent; don't play games. If there is an administrative reason why your name is not listed anywhere, then don't make it an issue. And why should the letter exclude the other members of the committee and be addressed only to you, the head of the committee? Does the greeting really affect your impression of a candidate? Is that reasonable? OK, maybe if the greeting is something like the e-mail we get from some of our students (e.g., Yo! Proff! or Hey!), maybe that would be unprofessional, but "Dear Search Committee" should not be a reason to start forming a negative impression of a candidate. "
Ask for an interview. I had no idea it was so easy. Actually, it seems that asking for an interview doesn't necessarily get you the interview, but not asking for one is apparently bad. How strange. I personally would find it obnoxious and pointless for someone to write in a cover letter (as advised in the column in question): "May I travel to [name the city] to discuss this position with you in person?". This would be seen as deeply strange in a cover letter to my department. Is there really such a difference between 2-year and 4-year institutions? I could be very wrong, but I would have thought that both get large numbers of applications for most positions and that this particular approach would not be fruitful. When someone applies to my institution, I assume they want the job unless there is other information that shows this is not the case.
I have saved the two weirdest ones for last:
Below your signature and printed name, type the word "Enclosures". Otherwise, the idiot search committee members may not know that you have included your CV and other application materials.
Print the letter in black ink on good-quality white or ivory paper. Paper? What is that?
I do not mean to denigrate this well-meaning writer who is seeking to help applicants, but I am bothered by the fact that some of the cover letter advice implies that hiring committees focus on minutiae and that an application can be downgraded by things that have nothing to do with the applicant's qualifications or degree of interest in the job. Applicants should not have to worry that committees are mulling over their choice of font or whether they get the greeting or sign-off words exactly right for the unknown preferences of the unknown persons who will be reading the application.
In my experience with hiring committees, it does not work that way. We look at the substance of the application, we make allowances for inexperienced applicants, and we expect there to be wide variation in the approach applicants take to their cover letter, from terse but informative to long, pleading, and repetitious.
Of course we want the cover letter to be articulate and useful, but beyond that, an applicant can go wild and use a sans serif font, sign off with "Warmest regards" instead of "Sincerely", and address us impersonally. Many (most?) of us won't notice, won't care, or will be able to deal with it without developing a deep loathing of the applicant. Just don't ask for an interview.