Co-authored with TPII editor, Verena Hutter
Almost every section of the CL has its own intricacies and pitfalls. The tailoring para for example can easily become a place where self-aggrandizing and desperation meet (“I’ll be a great asset to you, and I’ll name my first-born after you, just give me the job”). Likewise, the teaching para easily becomes a list of where you’ve taught, instead of what and how you teach, plus hackneyed invocations of obvious influences (Paulo Freire is a person, not a teaching goal). And while most people can talk A LOT about their research, presenting it in a compact and digestible way to the SC can be challenging. There’s no way around it, writing a good CL is hard.
There is one para however, that is fairly straightforward: the introduction. Yet, many clients, chomping at the bit and excited to get their materials in order, overdo it.
They cram their greatest accomplishments in there right away: The dissertation topic, awards they have won, what reviewers said about their books, all the places they have taught at, and of course, that they would be an ideal candidate.
I know that there are advisers out there that tell their students to see the intro para as kind of “best-of” so to speak, a “teaser” as I have heard someone say. Nein. Nyet. Non. No search committee wants to be teased; they want to skim your complete record without any kind of “hard sell.” And a desperately pleading intro paragraph is exactly that: a hard sell.
Imagine the following: you’re at a party, and someone introduces themselves to you. And then they hold forth in a monologue on who they are, all the places they’ve worked at, the awards and prizes they have won, what they are planning to do, what others have said about them…. How does this make you feel? Do you want to stick around? Or flee?
Imagine instead a good introduction; you learn a few tidbits, and you think: “Oh, ok, tell me more…”
So here’s how to write an intro:
Dear NAME OF THE CHAIR and Members of the Search Committee (and variations thereof)
“I am writing to apply to the advertised position of Assistant Professor in XX. I have a Ph.D. in XXX/I am completing a Ph.D. in XXX and will be defending my dissertation on XX, 2018. Currently I am a…. My research focuses on XX and YY.”
That’s it. Really. The last sentence serves as segue into your research paragraph (a crisp, concise, factual paragraph that outlines your topic, methods, theory, findings, conclusion and funding, in about 5-6 sentences).
The intro is like a business card. Unless your name is “Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, First of Her Name, the Unburnt, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons” (in which case I give you permission to disregard everything in this post), your card will not give too much info; it will just situate you.
I always say that the intro paragraph to the CL is your GPS locator. The SC needs to know where you are and where you came from, and that’s about it.
The job letter can get complicated, so allow yourself simplicity at the beginning.
–> If you want more help on the cover letter, check out Art of the Cover Letter, our digital program that walks you through all 9 paragraphs of an academic cover letter, with posts, worksheets, models, and video instruction by me, Dr. Karen. It produces amazing results.