How to build an effective professor cover letter
Professors are the backbone of any college or university, providing students at all academic levels with the education and foundation they need to thrive in their chosen careers. To earn a position as a professor, you need a cover letter that meets a high academic standard and will impress the faculty and department committee at the institution you are applying to.
In this guide, we will teach you how to perfect your cover letter and earn a coveted position as a professor. Keep reading to learn all about how to:
- Format your professor cover letter correctly
- Personalize & tailor your cover letter for the position
- Write a memorable professor cover letter introduction
- Provide in-depth details of your career in the body paragraphs
- Conclude your professor cover letter with a strong closing statement
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1. Format your professor cover letter correctly
When writing a cover letter for a position within academia, there are certain formatting differences compared to a normal business cover letter.
First, it is generally acceptable for an academic cover letter to be longer than one page – though you should aim to keep it under two pages in length. A career in academia involves many qualifications, so employers expect to see more in-depth job applications.
The structure of an academic cover letter should be similar to the following outline:
- Header: The header of your academic cover letter contains two key sections of information:
- Your name, professional title, and contact information
- The name of the university and department you are applying to
Your professional information should come first, followed by the university information. The university information can be formatted similarly to a letter address.
Here is an example of an academic cover letter header
John Smith | Professor of Humanities
(123) 456-7890 | firstname.lastname@example.org | linkedin.com/in/john-smith
The University of Michigan
- Greeting: Following your header is the greeting of your cover letter. This should be brief and formal, addressing a specific person – ideally the Department Head – by name.
- Introduction: The introductory paragraph of your cover letter is where you will hook the employer’s attention with a strong opening statement. It should be kept between 1 to 3 sentences.
- Body paragraphs: The body paragraphs will take up the majority of your cover letter, detailing your academic achievements, motivations, teaching experience, and more. You should aim for between 3 to 6 body paragraphs for a professor’s cover letter.
- Closing statement: Your closing statement finishes off your cover letter. As such, it needs to include vital information such as how to contact you and when you expect to hear back.
2. Personalize & tailor your professor cover letter for the position
There are many ways you can personalize and tailor your cover letter for the exact professor position you are applying to – starting with the greeting.
A personalized greeting will address a specific person by name. In the case of a professor’s cover letter, this person should be the Department Head or the Head of HR.
Here are two examples of personalized greetings
- Dear Dr. Jane Doe,
- To Dr. Doe, the Humanities Department Head,
When using titles such as Dr., Mr., Mrs., etc., always make sure you are using the correct one for the person you are speaking to.
In terms of tailoring the rest of your cover letter, the key is to research the department beforehand.
University departments want to hire professors who align with their current goals, particularly when it comes to research and publications. As such, you should highlight as many relevant projects and accomplishments you have that match the department’s current priorities and objectives.
3. Write a memorable professor cover letter introduction
The introductory paragraph of your cover letter can go a long way in attracting the attention of a university department head or hiring committee. This opening statement should immediately establish who you are as a professional and why you are a good match for the institution.
A strong introduction will often include:
- A brief overview of your professional history and goals
- A statement on why you are enthusiastic about applying to this company
- A mutual acquaintance – naming a mutual acquaintance immediately gives the employer a point of reference and helps you to build credibility right away.
Here is an example of an effective introduction from a professor’s cover letter
To Dr. Jane Doe & the Science Department Committee,
I am a Professor of Biology with over 10 years of experience teaching undergraduate courses and publishing peer-reviewed research in the field of biology. Recently, I co-authored a study in a major scientific journal with Dr. Joe King, one of your department’s tenured Professors. Dr. King recommended I apply for this opening, as my research and goals align with your department’s current objectives.
4. Provide in-depth details of your professor career in the body paragraphs
The body paragraphs of your cover letter are where you will provide the most in-depth details about your career, professional goals, accomplishments, and skills.
As you write these body paragraphs, make sure to include your:
- Academic pedigree: University employers want to know how qualified you are for the position. This means you need to include the full scope of your academic background, including not just your degrees but where you earned those degrees and any honors you have received.
- Relevant publications & projects: As mentioned, university departments will look for Professors who match their existing research goals and objectives. It is crucial to highlight at least 2 to 3 peer-reviewed publications or projects you played a major role in.
- Research niche: Along with describing relevant publications and projects, you should emphasize your own research niche. This will give the department you are applying to a better idea of where your area of expertise lies and what type of research you can contribute to their institution.
- Teaching experience: Teaching experience matters just as much as research ability. A department will want to see your proven track record of successfully teaching courses within a university setting. They will also want to see a good overview of your overall impact – such as student success rates and collaborations with distinguished Professors or other academic professionals.
- Professional associations: In the introduction, you will hopefully have included a mutual acquaintance. Take this a step further in the body paragraphs by listing your relevant professional associations – for example, if you are a member of an organization such as the American Association of University Professors, you should highlight this in your cover letter.
5. Conclude your professor cover letter with a strong closing statement
It is always important to include a thoughtful closing statement at the end of your professor cover letter. In this conclusion, you should aim to include:
- An enthusiastic sentence saying you are looking forward to hearing from them
- An additional sentence stating you will follow up, including how you will contact them or how they can contact you
- A formal sign-off
Here is an example of a well-written and concise closing statement from a professor’s cover letter
I am highly optimistic about my future with your department and institution, and greatly look forward to hearing from you so we may further discuss this opportunity and my qualifications. If I do not hear back by next Monday, I will reach out to touch base about the status of my application. The best time to reach me is between the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays at my office phone number – (123) 456-7890.
If you have ever wondered how a cover letter differs from a resume, this article will tell you everything about the key differences between the two.