On Cover Letters (2): Some Tips

Applying for academic posts – whether temporary or permanent, research- or teaching-focussed – is one of the biggest hurdles for ECRs. So every month(ish), we post some advice on how to help you launch your career. At the moment, we are running a series on CVs, Cover Letters and Interviews which guides you towards other websites and shares advice based on past experience. Most of these tips are focussed on the UK market, but they are also applicable to other international situations. Hope this can be useful in your application venture(s)!

Three Tips. Wait no – Four Tips. For Cover Letters in UK market.

  1. No more than 2 pages. Seriously. Play with the font and indentation if necessary. (Up to a reasonable point, that is ). 1.5 pages is ideal, although it can be hard to achieve…
  1. Do your background research. Who are you going to collaborate with? Name them. How does your research intersect with other staff members? Name them. (Although make sure they are permanent staff…) Does the department/university have any research centres/projects you could join? Name them. What courses can you contribute to, and which ones does your proposed module complement? Name them. This specificity shows you’ve done your research, and that you care. By doing this, you’re also already getting into their heads (mwahaha) showing yourself as a potential colleague.
  1. Each paragraph has a point. That’s right: stay organised, have a strong structure. Make sure each paragraph has a specific theme. Here is a suggestion to structure your cover letter:
    1. Introductory paragraph;
    2. Past/Current Research;
    3. Next/Future Research;
    4. Teaching;
    5. Broader academic engagement;
    6. Conclusion & potential collaboration within department/faculty/university.

Of course, the content and size of each paragraph depends on the specificity of the job. You might want to emphasise how your research fits into the department if it is a permanent position, or expand the teaching section if this is a teaching-driven university. You get the jist.

  1. Show don’t Tell. This is a piece of very reasonable advice offered by The Professor Is In in her very useful blog post, Why Your Job Cover Letter Sucks. It is also the advice many of us give to our students who make big claims in their essays but don’t back them up with evidence. Well, same goes for Cover Letters. Don’t say you are an engaging teacher who uses a lot of primary sources in their teaching – say which films, novels, paintings you use to draw in your students and bring the topic to life. Same thing for discussing the events you have organised in the past: name drop. Tell us how popular they were. And for your research plans: indicate which big grants you’re hoping to apply for, which journals you’ll submit your next peer-reviewed article.

Hope this helps and good luck!



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