How To Write an Academic Job Cover Letter

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 5 August 2022

Published 25 June 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

In addition to a curriculum vitae (CV), a cover letter can help potential employers learn about you as a candidate. Whether you're applying for a role in the administration or as an educator, a position in academia often requires you to write a cover letter. An academic job cover letter gives you an opportunity to give employers a better understanding of your traits, skills, experiences and communication abilities. In this article, we discuss what goes into an academic cover letter and how to compose one as well as provide an example that you can use when writing your own.

Related: Everything You Need To Know About Academic CVs

Why are academic job cover letters important?

Academic job cover letters matter because they can help you:

  • Provide potential employers with a deeper understanding of your character. An academic cover letter gives you a chance to show recruiters your personality. Including a cover letter with your application can help make you a more memorable candidate.

  • Elaborate on experiences, abilities or qualities briefly mentioned in your CV. A CV is a document designed to summarise your experiences and skills. With an academic cover letter, you can provide employers with more details, data or examples from your academic career.

  • Demonstrate your communication skills. Regardless of what position you're applying to, many university recruiters value candidates with high-quality communication skills. Writing your cover letter clearly and professionally can show your communication abilities to employers.

Related: What Is a Cover Letter?: A Vital Document for Successful Job Searching

How to write an academic cover letter

Here are eight steps to help you write an academic cover letter:

1. Review the job posting

Carefully read through the academic job posting. Note what qualities and experiences the institution requests candidates have, such as teaching specific subjects, helping academic institutions receive external funding or having publications included in academic journals. Reviewing the job posting can help you determine ways to highlight your specific skills, traits and experiences in relation to the employer's desired qualifications.

Looking over the job posting can also help you determine what materials to include with your application. If the department wants a separate teaching philosophy statement, consider spending less time on your theory of learning, and discuss instead the successes of your classroom practices in your academic cover letter. The type of institution may also guide the content of your cover letter. A university that emphasises research, for example, likely wants a more extensive account of your publication history and the goals of your research. An application for a liberal arts program, however, may focus more on your teaching experience.

2. Format your document

Use a professional business letter format. As with most other professional documents, your academic cover letter contains a heading with your name and address at the top, followed by the date and the recipient's address. Set your page margins to one inch, use single-spacing between lines and choose a professional font like Times New Roman, Calibri or Garamond. These settings show your attention to detail in writing and improve readability for the hiring committee.

3. Organise your key points

Before writing your letter, create an outline. Knowing what you're going to write beforehand helps ensure you mention all your relevant qualifications within no more than two pages. Choose an organisational structure for your cover letter that makes sense both for the institution you're applying to and for your academic history. Some professionals choose to arrange their cover letters by topic, with teaching in one section and research in another. Others may decide to organise their cover letters chronologically to emphasise their progression over time as an educator, researcher and scholar.

Whatever way you decide to organise your cover letter, focus on presenting your experiences in a concise and detailed way. Most academic professionals write a lot as part of their job, whether to communicate with their coworkers, offer their students feedback or compose papers for academic journals. Your academic cover letter is a great opportunity to demonstrate your ability to effectively use the written word.

Related: 7 Powerful Ways to Start a Cover Letter (With Examples)

4. Discuss your teaching experience

Describe your teaching style in more detail. Include classroom tools, activities or materials you've used most effectively and that you'd likely repeat or adapt for the position you're applying to. Consider giving specific examples or anecdotes about your time in the classroom that demonstrate your commitment to helping students learn and succeed.

Your academic cover letter can also be a great place to discuss victories your students have had because of your teaching efforts. For example, mention if you supervised a student project or directed a thesis later published in an academic journal. Referring to your students' achievements can help show recruiters that your teaching abilities and efforts have positively affected the professional lives of your students.

Related: How To Answer the Question: 'What Is Your Work Style?'

5. Elaborate on your academic and research goals

Explain your past publications, research projects or related academic work. Your academic job cover letter provides you with the opportunity to discuss the background, methods or successes of your previous research papers and projects. You can also use your cover letter to explain how your past scholarly work has influenced the research you hope to conduct at their university.

Discuss your current research projects or papers on your academic cover letter as well. Your CV may not include information about any unpublished scholarly efforts or research projects you're still working on. Explain how you believe the institution you're applying to might help you achieve your current academic goals, such as with their archives related to your work or their state-of-the-art technology for your field.

Related: How to Develop SMART Goals

6. Be mindful of your tone

Write your academic cover letter with a professional yet positive tone. It's important to sound professional in your letter, as it is a formal document that's part of your official application. However, you also want to use the letter to convey your enthusiasm for the open position, department and institution as a whole.

7. Edit your cover letter

Before you submit your application, carefully proofread your cover letter. Check for any spelling, grammar or other errors. Consider also if there are any sections in your cover letter that you could further develop or removed. You may want to ask a friend to help you edit to ensure that your letter is in optimal condition. Since most careers in academia involve a lot of writing, it's important to show that you pay attention to details in written correspondence and documents.

8. Note any other included documents

In the closing of your cover letter, mention any other included documents within your application. Most academic job postings require that candidates submit several documents, such as a statement on your teaching philosophy or sample syllabus. If the job posting didn't ask for any additional materials, state in your cover letter that you'd be happy to send any additional information or documents upon request.

Related: How To End a Cover Letter

Academic cover letter sample

Here is a sample academic cover letter to help you in crafting your own:

Malik Hanson
38 Minnow Street, London, E6 3QY
0356 158205
+44 (0)1234 567890

6 June 2021

Ms Elizabeth Smith
University of Dover
English Department
41 Robin Lane, Dover, E9 2QY
0947 159759

Dear Ms Smith,

I am writing to apply for the English professorship at the University of Dover advertised on the university's online job board. Starting as a graduate teaching assistant at Glasgow University and continuing through the last five years as a senior lecturer, I have over seven years of experience teaching at the post-secondary level.

While in my PhD program, I completed teaching instruction courses in English composition, professional writing and literature. Further, I have published articles about education and Modernist literature in a variety of peer-reviewed journals. With my experience as an instructor and researcher, I am confident that I can be an integral member of the University of Dover's English faculty.

As a senior lecturer at Glasgow University, I have taught two sections of Early Modernist Poetry for ten terms. Last year, I started teaching a new course called Imagist Poetry During WWII that focuses on the work of Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell and Hilda Doolittle. In these modules, I developed lectures and classroom exercises and taught intensive research methods.

My pedagogy combines reader-response theory and structuralism, and I encourage my students to give equal value to their emotional experiences of reading as I do to their textual analysis. In doing so, the classroom becomes a site where my students feel a sense of belonging in the history of literature, which makes them more avid readers even outside of the classroom.

In addition to teaching, I am an avid researcher and have been a participant in the last three conventions of the Modern Language Association. In my first presentation, I detailed the effect of William Carlos Williams' medical practice on his poetic theory. Through a close reading of the poem 'January Morning (Suite),' I showed Williams believed that being a doctor was a source of heightened perception, a quality necessary for poets.

I would be happy to provide additional application materials at your request. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to discussing this position with you further.

Malik Hanson, PhD

The model shown is for illustration purposes only, and may require additional formatting to meet accepted standards.

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