University of Minnesota
Office of Human Resources
http://www.umn.edu/ohr
612-625-2016

Writing an Academic Cover Letter

The academic cover letter plays a significant role in whether or not you make the first cut for a position. Therefore, the letter needs to include a very good summary of your qualifications and explain how they fit with the position advertised.

A good academic cover letter is generally one to two pages in length and should reflect the ideas you considered regarding institutional fit, your academic career plan, and the material you prepared with regard to why you, the institution, and the job are suited to one another. Remember: the specifics of the job description and the mission of the institution and department should be addressed.

Below is an example of how to organize an academic cover letter. The following is not intended to be prescriptive; rather, it is intended as a guide. The order of your letter, its scope, and its contents should be matched to the institutional type and specifics of the job call.

  1. First Paragraph

    • Explanation of the position you're applying for and where/how you learned about it
    • State your field of specialization and university where you're studying
    • State your degree status (if ABD, note when you expect to complete your degree)
    • Express interest in the position, the department, and the institution
  2. Second Paragraph

    • Discuss either your dissertation and its importance or your teaching experience. (For reseach-oriented institutions and positions, discussion of the dissertation should come in the second paragraph; for teaching-oriented institutions and positions, discuss the courses you've taught here.)
    • Discuss how you fit the position as stated in the ad (provide specifics not detailed on the CV)
  3. Third Paragraph

    • Mention teaching and/or research interests not noted above
    • Discuss additional strengths or resources pertinent to the position, department, or institution (ie, administrative work, community work, professional experience, interdisciplinary affiliations, technology expertise, etc.)
  4. Fourth Paragraph

    • Discuss the fit between you, the department, and the institution
    • Explain why you are attracted to the position, department, and institution
    • Address your interest in the goals of their institution
    • Note how your skills will help them meet their departmental and institutional goals
  5. Final Paragraph

    • Express your interest in meeting for an interview
    • Provide numbers/times to be reached
    • List enclosures (vitae, teaching philosophy, etc.)
    • State that additional information can be provided upon request.
    • Refer them to your on-line job search portfolio web page if you have one