Ten Rules for Writing a Job Letter

  1. Always use departmental letterhead.

  2. The letter must not be more than 2 pages. If need be, play with fonts and margins, but do not exceed 1000 words (excluding address etc.).

  3. Your job letter represents a chance to frame your candidacy, underscoring your strengths and minimizing your weaknesses.  This is not the place to admit what you haven’t yet accomplished but, rather, to explain what you look forward to doing--where your work is headed.  Nevertheless…

  4. The tone of the letter must be promising without seeming overly enthusiastic: this is not the place to say that you “love teaching” but, rather, that you have “experienced its rewards in the classroom and benefited from its insights in the context of your own work.” On the other hand, you should try to achieve professionalism without writing a stilted or awkward letter. This is not the place for jargon.

  5. Try not to repeat too much of your CV except to elaborate, explain, enhance. Your CV summarizes your graduate career, but the letter narrates that career, (1) explaining your dissertation; (2) outlining your research and writings to date; (3) elaborating your teaching experience and, to a certain degree, your teaching philosophy; (4) discussing your service and participation in the academic community.

  6. Develop a teaching-oriented and a research-oriented version of the letter. For certain jobs that emphasize teaching, you might consider foregrounding the corresponding paragraph in your letter, but this basic structure (dissertation, research, teaching, service) remains the predominant, if unacknowledged, form. For an example of two versions of the same letter, see the sample job letters page.

  7. When tailoring your letter to specific schools, make changes in consistent places so that it will be easy to modify the wording when applying to a different school. Do not list specific course numbers that you would like to teach, but rather types or courses. Double- check to make sure that you have the right school name throughout the letter.

  8. The job letter is not the place to be creative or to experiment with genre: work within the form, trying to fashion as clear and rhetorically subtle a letter as possible. Unlike its factual content, which you can only manage to a certain degree, the language of the letter remains totally in your hands.  Craft it.

  9. Write, edit, rewrite, and don’t be afraid to borrow phrases you have heard. If the job letter is not the place to be creative, it is most definitely not the place to be wholly original. No one ever patented a neatly turned phrase explaining how “my teaching is integrally related to my research,” so borrow when it suits you.

  10. No matter what anyone tells you, even a single typo or grammatical error in your letter is cause for worry. The sheer number of applicants is such that that committee members, charged with the task of vetting hundreds of letters, must find (or invent) a reason to toss the majority out. Don’t provide a reason.