Cover letters, cover letters, cover letters

More on cover letters, from Inside Higher Ed. Very nicely written. Two pull quotes:

While we’d like to think that brilliance and skill will always call attention to themselves and that genius will rise above the merely mundane, apparently, appreciation requires context. The job application is there to help your interviewers see you. It calls attention to specific qualities and accomplishments that make sense in the specific context set out by the position announcement. Application letters do the same thing that tuxedos, spotlights, and advanced press buzz do for Joshua Bell. They don’t create brilliance, but they do set the stage so your potential audience knows where to find it.


Picture this. You need someone who can do six specific things. You put the word out: “Here are the six specific things I need.” You may even use a bullet list for clarity. When people respond, what do you hope they talk about? The position announcement is the baseline description of what a campus says it needs. Clearly address the categories in the ad: working with Generation 1.5, teaching at an urban campus, contributing to specific research. Help readers see who you are in the context of the needs they’ve already identified.

Really, this and many other recent articles about How To Win In A Terrible Job Market say one thing that I agree with: The application is not about you, it’s about your audience. I know that we want it to be about us, that it feels very much like it’s about us, but it’s not. It’s about the reader. Talk to your audience, in ways that make you audible.


  1. I hope it’s not terribly rude of me to plug a blog post I did elsewhere in your comments, but I recently wrote a post on cover letters from the perspective of a recent job seeker (

    I read a lot of great advice on the topic — address the points mentioned in the job ad, tailor it to each position, etc. But the thing that made a huge difference for me was getting someone with experience on a hiring committee to review my cover letter. She gave me a new perspective on what experience I should highlight, including stuff that I was taking for granted. Thankfully, I wound up having a job lined up before I even graduated!


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