“I’m the Ideal Candidate for Your Position!”

During Fall 2016 I am reposting the top 25 blog posts about the academic job market.  Today’s post is yet another post on job letters.

This one is on that object of contention: the fit sentence.

You know the one—it’s the sentence that says, “with my background in xxx and yyy, I am the ideal candidate for your position in zzz.”

Sometimes it says, “my combination of experience in xxx and yyy make me an excellent fit for your position in zzz.”

Why do advisors keep telling their graduate students to include those? I mean, really? Does anybody actually take these things seriously? Is a search committee member really going to take the CANDIDATE’S word for their suitability for the position? If we’re going to do that, why search at all? Why not just take the one who says he’s “ideal”?

“Was I born YESTERDAY????” a senior professor friend of mine with countless searches under his belt responded. “Do they think I’m that NAIVE….? Do they think I’ll just BELIEVE them????”

I mean, professors don’t take anything at face value, not anything at all. So why in the world would they believe a job letter that claims the writer is an “ideal fit” for their advertised position?

As a colleague, whom I shall call Professor Snark, recently remarked,

“Gosh and golly! How could I, seasoned professor that I am, have failed to noticed the so plainly obvious fact, until you pointed it out, that among all the eminently qualified candidates for this job, you, yes you alone among them, are the ideal candidate for the position? I stand humbled before you in all your awesome idealness.”

Seriously, job candidates, remember the rule of good writing: Show, Don’t Tell.

Writing “I am the ideal candidate for your position”?  That  is telling.

Writing a letter full of evidence of intellectual prowess and scholarly productivity, award-winning teaching, and a long-standing commitment to the field of work identified by the job ad?  That, on the other hand, is showing.

So show us the money, candidates! Remember, talk is cheap.

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“I’m the Ideal Candidate for Your Position!” — 23 Comments

  1. I had two mentors (TT faculty who have severed on multiple search committees in the humanities) recently review my letter (which was crafted with the help of Karen) and BOTH commented on how RELIEVED they were that I DID NOT include the “fit” sentence– which they find pat and trite. One of them said that she usually just glosses over the “fit” sentence– but not having it there made my letter stand out as especially confident and professional.

  2. I’d be interested to hear your suggestions for a better way to conclude a letter while still bringing everything together at the end and sounding confident. I’m thinking of an internship I applied for last year – I gave examples of my language skills, research experience and knowledge of the relevant fields in the body of the letter, but I’m sure I finished with a sentence like that because I wanted to leave them with the impression that I could do all of the things they were looking for.

    • Hannah, this is a good and honest question. You have to TRUST that your letter does what it should, and describes all of your qualifications thoroughly and well. Then you merely stand *with dignity* on the strength of those paragraphs, and sign off with a reserved and dignified, “Enclosed please find my c.v. and teaching documents. My references will be sent under separate cover. Thank you very much for your consideration. Sincerely, xxxxx”

      And that’s it. No final begging or pleading or excessive claims. It’s painful to read and weakens your case. If your letter is good—really, really good—it speaks for itself, and it accomplishes the one true goal of job documents: it makes THEM want to chase YOU. And that only happens with a self-respecting reserve.

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  5. I totally understand what you are saying and have often thought of this when reading my own cover letter. Do you have an example cover letter that we can see in order to get a general idea??

    • Amy, I never share sample or model cover letters on the blog because I believe in people crafting their own (using the information in my various posts) so that each individual’s letter retains a sense of individuality. I do on occasion share models, on a case by case basis, with clients who have signed on to work with me personally, because then we work together to make sure that the model is used properly, merely as reference, and not just copied.

  6. Initially I was delighted with the detailed instructions and clarity you offer on writing job letters. Then I discovered that almost none of the jobs I am applying for have detailed job descriptions. I’m in a different field, so perhaps that explains the difference, but it is difficult to show that you have the qualifications they are looking for when they only mention the legal qualifications required for the position (professional counselor – masters degree and state approval). Everything won’t fit, but with no guidelines I am unsure how to narrow it down. Do you have any suggestions for responding to job notices that give few to no specific qualities the employer is looking for?

  7. Hi Karen, I realize this post is a few years old but if you’re still responding to comments, I have a question I’m hoping you can help me with.

    You seem to have almost a visceral reaction to candidates “wrapping up” their letters and concluding they are a good fit for the position. Most behavioral economics studies show that people typically respond better when explicitly told an obvious thing, and “don’t make me think” seems to be an appropriate M.O. when writing a cover letter: don’t make the reader connect the dots, or infer, or draw conclusions.

    Is there something unique to applying for jobs in academia that would make using a summarize sentence structured as “My (experience / qualification 1) and (experience / qualification 2) make me an ideal candidate” — or is your dislike for this approach a personal preference shared by you and your colleague? I’m trying to help a friend with her post-doc cover letter and all my experience is in marketing, where value propositions and calls to action are expected and appreciated. Your help would be very much appreciated. Thank you!

    • Read my post, Those Twelve Sentences. The problem with “ideal candidate” language is the same as what i identify in that post. White noise, trite, overused, meaningless in context. And academics absolutely loathe any sense of being marketed to.

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  10. Some jobs that I am applying for are requesting a separate essay about “why I am the ideal fit for the job advertisement.” This would seems to me to be supplemental to the cover letter. I am wondering if anyone else has seen anything like this and, if so, has Dr. Karen addressed such a letter elsewhere? In my view, this would be somewhat different from the cover letter, perhaps more detailed and explicit. But, I am a bit unsure of this. Thanks everyone.

      • Yep, I have had the same experience. Separate essays about why I am an ideal candidate. These positions included a faculty research assistant (in a STEM discipline), a post-doc contract position (biology education research), and an analyst position. All of these jobs required a PhD.

        • I am currently looking at a visiting assistant professor position that is asking for a Cover Letter and a Statement of Interest. Is it a similar situation? Is a Statement of Interest a separate “ideal fit” document?

  11. This is fabulous advice. May I also add that job candidates who have not taught full-time refrain from commenting on their “extensive teaching experience”? Someone who is applying for a job with a 3-3 teaching load but has only been instructor of record for 1 or 2 courses (or better yet, has only guest lectured/TAd) does not have extensive teaching experience. Saying that they do only makes it sound as if they don’t understand the teaching component of the job.

  12. Interesting advice.
    What about something like “I believe I would fit well in your research group”? (I really do!)
    it is about scientific postdocs.


  13. WOW. I was literally minutes away from sending in a carefully crafted letter I had read a hundred times, and suddenly thought, “what would Karen Kelsky say about “Thank you for your consideration” at the end? That Google search brought me to this post, which pointed out an entire sentence I did NOT need, and when I took it out it reads as so much stronger. I do not need to waste time telling them how great I am when I am about to prove it in my letter with actual facts. Thanks!

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