Applying for Jobs

On Cover Letters (1): structuring your cover letter

In order to help you in your application process, we recently discussed how to structure your CV (see here http://frenchhistorysociety.co.uk/blog/?p=342) but that is only part of the work. A really strong Cover Letter is key. Indeed, if the CV can be cut-and-pasted quite easily, the Cover Letter cannot be overly generic. Each application will have its own specificities outlined in your Cover Letter. Each Cover Letter will take ages to write and re-write. It is certainly worth putting in quite a lot of work in the Cover Letter. You will want to read it over and over again to make it as clear and legible as possible to a non-specialist audience – indeed, even if one or two people on your panel will be familiar with your work, most others won’t.

If every Cover Letter is different, are there not some basic structures which can help save you time? Ultimately, despite the writing and re-writing (and re-writing), cover letters have largely the same structure. Well, of course it depends on the job/institution, and on your own research/teaching agendas. But there are some basics which can help you outline your Cover Letter.

IMPORTANT: THIS IS NOT THE ONLY STRUCTURE YOU CAN HAVE. We do not want to be the dictators of the cover-letter-writing-process. And in the future we welcome comments/blogs from other people who wish to share their own experiences of writing a cover letter – but here is a draft of something which can work.

BASIC STRUCTURE

Dear (name of head of selection committee, usually mentioned in the job advert or job specifics),

Paragraph 1: a short paragraph introducing yourself, the job you’re applying for, and why you’re a perfect fit;

Paragraph 2: Past/Current research;

Paragraph 3: Next/Future research;

Paragraph 4: Teaching;

Paragraph 5: Broader academic and non-academic engagements;

Paragraph 6: Concluding remarks;

Kind regards/Best wishes/etc.,

Name.

ADAPTING YOUR STRUCTURE TO FIT THE JOB

The attention you give each section will vary according to the job you’re going for – whether it is teaching-led or research-led, for instance – and you may want to delete/add other paragraphs according to your specific experience. Indeed, you won’t want to dwell on your thesis if you have already published your first book, you might want to emphasise your current, new project. Likewise, if you have not finished your thesis, you might be less clear as to your next project(s), and you will not want to understate the thesis-into-book transition.

In order to decide which structure will suit you, be sure to carefully read the job description. The advert itself will have some information, but almost all jobs are accompanied by an additional Job Specifics document. If you cannot find one, don’t hesitate to email the contact recommended in the job advert and enquire about any additional documentation.

Once you’ve read it, you’ll have a clearer idea of what they’re expecting, and on how you should structure your CV. A teaching-led university who is keen on IMPACT ? You may want to switch paragraphs 3 and 4 around, and won’t want to overlook paragraph 5. A research position ? Paragraphs 2 and 3 will be key – Paragraph 4 can be shorter.

Later posts will discuss style, content, and other basic tips. But we hope that this has already helped to give you an idea of the process of writing a basic Cover Letter.

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