The Letter of Application
This is the single most important part of your application, so take it very seriously. A strong cover letter will help convince a faculty search committee that you not only meet the minimum requirements for the position advertised, but that you are also well-informed about the mission and needs of the institution and the department you are applying to. You want to convey excitement for teaching and for your contribution to research in your discipline. Your prose should sparkle. Communicate enthusiasm, intelligence, and professional maturity. Convince the committee that you have a clear sense of the direction you want to take in your teaching and research and that you have an understanding of the issues that are important to your discipline. Motivate your readers to take a close look at your vita, to pay attention to your recommendations, to study your other enclosures, and to advocate for your candidacy.
A Model Cover Letter (to be adapted)
[There is no perfect way to write a letter. Your letter needs, in some way, to communicate something about you as an individual. The letter below is only a model and should be freely modified as appropriate both to you as the candidate and to the institution and their particular needs.]
[Note: You can use letterhead showing U of T as your institution. These days many faculty (and students) create their own on the computer.]
Title (generally “Professor,” but possibly “Dean” or other title) and Full Name of Search Committee Contact or Department Chair
[Further address as necessary]
City, Province, Postal Code
[or City, State, Postal code]
Dear Title Last Name (usually “Dear Professor X”):
- Indicate the specific job for which you are applying and note where you saw the job advertised. Indicate your current position, the status of your thesis (in U.S. applications always call it a dissertation), and note your anticipated defense date. (For example, “I am currently a Ph.D. candidate at University of Toronto. I have completed four chapters of my thesis, and have begun the fifth and final chapter. I expect to defend the thesis in early March.”). Immediately add something that signals your particular interest in or qualification for this job. Return to this at the end.
Your first main topic is usually your research (unless this is a teaching position primarily):
- Indicate your general areas of research (you may mention other areas than those specified in ad, but don’t sound as if you lack focus). Give some indication of how your own interests shape or guide your approach to these areas.
- If you have any, mention pertinent publications that support your statements. (For example: “As you will see from the C.V. I have enclosed, my interests in Sidney’s manuscript revisions led to the publication of ….”) The point to be made, at this moment in your letter, is how your research equips you to excel in the position advertised, so make sure that it sounds like something you could discuss in an undergraduate classroom.
- Summarize your dissertation or thesis. For new scholars this is important (and you may not be given a chance to do this in an interview). Chapter highlights may be helpful; what is crucial is that you sound like you are enthusiastic about the contribution to knowledge that your thesis makes. Even if you are attaching a thesis abstract to your C.V., a good paragraph in the letter of application is not too long and two paragraphs may be ok. At this point in the letter, your description of your research should be pitched to faculty, not to potential students. But remember that it is quite likely no one in your field will be reading your letter. Always make your descriptions of your research reader-friendly and accessible to generalists.
- If your thesis is still in progress, give a brief indication of where you imagine going with your research after its completion. (“Once I have completed and defended this thesis, I would like to expand my area of inquiry into the practices of revision in other poets of the period. I have already encountered interesting evidence that Ben Jonson ….”) If the thesis is complete, then give a description of the new project in which you are now engaged. If you are well into this next project, this part of your letter may be as detailed as, or more detailed than, your description of your thesis.
- If you do not yet have any publications or forthcoming publications or articles in submission, then indicate what your plans are. (“Following the defense of my thesis, I plan to submit the chapter dealing with Astrophil and Stella —which I have enclosed as a writing sample—to Renaissance Quarterly. My long-term plans are …”)
Your other main topic is your teaching:
- Indicate your primary teaching fields, if the first paragraphs of your letter have not already done so. Elaborate on your preparation or expertise in these fields. Speak about your experience, and remember that if your experience as an instructor teaching your own course has been limited you can still find ways to describe relevant experiences elsewhere (for example, you might mention guest lectures while marking for a senior faculty member; public speaking; seminar presentations).
- Explain your teaching focus or style. Give some sense of your success as a teacher or mention qualities you have that you feel would make you a strong teacher. Give brief personal highlights. You may want to show how your teaching and research interact. Be sure to discuss anything that makes you or your experiences different from the others.
- Try to convey something of your “teaching philosophy” in a sentence that doesn’t sound too smarmy.
- Indicate any other unique or unexpected aspects of your teaching profile. (Example: “As you will note from the attached CV, I have focused my teaching, conference presentations, and publications on composition studies, while integrating both literary and composition theories into my dissertation research. While my training has prepared me to teach both literature and composition, I find that I have especially enjoyed teaching courses in which I challenge students to find issues that are important to them, and guide them to invention, organization, and revision strategies that will help them develop their ideas.”)
- If you have been teaching for a while, even as a CLTA (note: at other universities this may be called other things; in the U.S. it is commonly called an adjunct), you might want to emphasize your professional experience and accomplishments at the beginning of your letter and talk about your dissertation or other research afterwards. The most important thing about letters of application is that their flow should be logical (even narrative), highlighting the attributes that the Search Committee for this particular job needs to hear about.
Other things to talk about:
- You may add a brief paragraph about administrative talents. (For example, “While in graduate school I served on several committees and organized a graduate conference on ….”)
- You may have special interests or activities you want to note. But make sure these are ones the committee can envision adding to your immediate value as a faculty member (“My community work with high school literacy programs has shown me…”), not interests that may sound like they will take you away from your teaching and research (“My avid pursuit of stamp collecting—or novel writing…”).
- You may wish to add something at the end, or in the opening, indicating your potential affinity with the institution or explaining why you would look particularly favourably on an offer, especially if you can thereby speak to potential anxieties that the search committee may have. (Examples: “I am aware that some may find your isolation in rural Montana daunting, but yours is the kind of landscape I’ve always loved and always dreamed of living in.” “I’m particularly excited by the opportunity to teach in an institution whose main focus is on undergraduate instruction.” “Having grown up outside Sudbury and still having family there, I know North Ontario well and would welcome the opportunity to be based in the area.” “My adviser remembers his years at your institution with great fondness.”) If you’re applying to a prestigious university, then, unless you have something very specific to say, don’t waste words with empty flattery.
- NEVER sound beseeching or desperate. (Don’t write, e.g.: “Having a large family to support, you can imagine how eager I am …” “Having been in the market for four years now, I’ve decided that, if I don’t get an academic job this year …”)
- Indicate what is enclosed with the letter (i.e., C.V., dissertation abstract, writing sample, teaching dossier, or other requested materials.) Explain how the committee can acquire a copy of your dossier or indicate if you have already requested it be sent. (In any case, make sure the address for contacting the Career Centre is on your C.V.)
- Explain how (and, if pertinent, when) you can be reached. If you are going to MLA (or possibly to another major conference in your area of expertise), mention it.
Your Contact Address (home address is ok)—if not given in, or different from that of, letterhead
Area Code, Contact Phone Number
E-mail address [optional, but increasing of value]
[If you include e-mail, you must check it regularly. Be sure that the phone number you give has a reliable answering machine or other service, with a professional
Adapted from the Department of English Placement Office