Page 1 of 6 Academic Cover Letter Handout, updated 11/10/2006
COVER LETTERS FOR ACADEMIC JOB APPLICATIONS
A cover letter must accompany any application you submit for an academic job. The purpose of a
cover letter, also sometimes called a letter of application, is to introduce yourself and to
demonstrate the fit between your background and the advertised position. Use your cover letter to
guide the employer’s attention to the most significant portions of CV, to explain how your
particular experiences have provided you with the skills you need to be successful in the position,
and to convey enthusiasm for the position for which you are applying.
Content and Structure of an Academic Cover Letter
Although most cover letters follow a similar structure, you should tailor each one for the job to
which you are applying. If you are applying to dozens of positions, this might not be feasible, but do
at least customize the letter for the type of institution and position. Carefully read the job posting
and fashion your letter based upon the information gleaned from the ad; the university and
departmental Web sites may also provide valuable background information.
Prepare your opening paragraph with great care, since it sets the tone for the rest of the letter.
Introduce yourself, mentioning the degree you are pursuing and the university you attend. Refer to
the specific position for which you are applying, and indicate how you learned about the position or
organization. If you have not yet finished your degree, you should state when you expect to receive
your degree or defend your dissertation. You may also want to briefly mention what attracted you to
the university to which you are submitting your application (i.e., strong undergraduate programs,
commitment to research and development, excellent faculty).
The body of your letter should consist of one or two paragraphs that highlight your interest in the
position, your strongest attributes and your strong qualifications. This is your opportunity to “sell”
yourself. Use this opportunity to elaborate upon the distinctive strengths and qualifications you
would bring to the position and attempt to persuade the search committee that you are a highly
qualified candidate deserving additional consideration. Many people find this type of self-
promotion difficult, and are concerned that such comments sound arrogant. Modesty is not
rewarded in the job search, and you may be the only voice articulating your qualifications to the
search committee. Sometimes, taking a bit of risk is necessary to demonstrate your enthusiasm.
Who you are comes across when you personalize your letters by including relevant personal details.
If you are applying to a major research institution, it is also important to stress your interest in
conducting research, possibly elaborating upon your current research or dissertation topic. For
liberal arts or teaching colleges, it is appropriate to express your interest in teaching and in
undergraduate education. Consider the specialization(s) that the job ads calls for, and draw as many
parallels as possible between your area of specialization and the position. Address any other
requirements that the job posting requests, as well as any other qualifications or experiences that
you possess. If any information on your CV is confusing or may cause questions among the search
committee, address these topics in the cover letter.
Conclude your letter by reinforcing you interest in the position and in obtaining an interview.
Indicate the other materials you are enclosing in your application packet and whether any other
Graduate College Career Services Office
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
204 Coble Hall, 801 South Wright Street, Champaign, IL 61820
(217) 333-4610, GradCareerServices@uiuc.edu, www.grad.uiuc.edu/careerservices