by Professor Philip N. Howard
“When you apply for an academic job, your cover letter helps a hiring committee interpret your curriculum vitae and conveys your excitement about and dedication to your work.
Your mission is to land an academic job. The immediate goal is to use the cover letter to get you on two shortlists—the shortlist of a dozen people who will be invited to submit more writing samples and have references checked, followed by the shortlist of three or four people who will be invited to visit the hiring department.
Cover letters should include 12 pieces of information that hiring committees are seeking:
I would like to be considered for the position of [title copied from job ad] in [exact department name from job ad] at the [exact institution name from job ad]. I am an advanced doctoral candidate in [your department].
This opening should be short and can certainly vary. The odds are that you will submit for many jobs, be shortlisted for a few, and be offered one or two. In all the cutting and pasting, make sure these letters are correctly addressed to the chair of the search committee or the chair of the department.
My doctoral project is a study of [cocktail party description]. Much of the research on this topic suggests that [characterize the literature as woefully inadequate]. But I [demonstrate, reveal, discover] that contrary to received wisdom, [your punch line].
This is the key statement about your doctoral project. Demonstrate how you will contribute to an intellectual conversation that is larger than your project– but unable to advance without your findings. The next paragraph should detail your research with one sentence on each chapter in your manuscript.”