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Cover Letters Higher Education Administration

The classic counterpart to a CV, cover letters are standard in almost all job applications. Academic cover letters are typically allowed to be longer than in other sectors, but this latitude comes with its own pitfalls. For one, many cover letters are written as if they were simply a retelling in full sentences of everything on the CV. But this makes no sense. Selectors will have skimmed through your CV already, and they don't want to re-read it in prose form.

Instead, approach your cover letter as a short essay. It needs to present a coherent, evidence-based response to one question above all: why would you be an excellent hire for this position?

1) Start with a clear identity

Consider this sentence: "My research interests include Thomas Mann, German modernist literature, the body, the senses, Freudian psychoanalysis, queer theory and performativity, poststructuralism, and Derridean deconstruction." In my experience, this type of sentence is all too common. Who is this person? What do they really do? If I'm asking myself these questions after more than a few lines of your cover letter, then you've already fallen into the trap of being beige and forgettable.

To get shortlisted, you need to stand out. So, let's start as we mean to go on. Your opening paragraph should answer the following questions: What is your current job and affiliation? What's your research field, and what's your main contribution to it? What makes you most suitable for this post?

2) Evidence, evidence, evidence

It's generally accepted that, in job applications, we need to 'sell' ourselves, but how to do this can be a source of real anxiety. Where's the line between assertiveness, modesty and arrogance? The best way to guard against self-aggrandisement or self-abnegation is to focus on evidence. For example, "I am internationally recognised as an expert in my field" is arrogant, because you are making a bold claim and asking me to trust your account of yourself. By contrast, "I was invited to deliver a keynote talk at [top international conference]" is tangible and verifiable.

If you can produce facts and figures to strengthen your evidence, then your letter will have even more impact, for example "I created three protocols which improved reliability by N%. These protocols are now embedded in my group's experiments and are also being used by ABC". Remember that your readers need you to be distinctive and memorable.

Never cite the job description back at the selectors. If they have asked for excellent communication skills, you're going to need to do better than merely including the sentence "I have excellent communication skills." What is your evidence for this claim?

3) It's not an encyclopaedia

Because everything you say must be supported with evidence, you can't include everything. I find that many people are prone to an encyclopaedic fervour in their cover letters: they slavishly address each line of the job description, mention every single side project which they have on the go, every book chapter and review article they've ever written, and so on. Letters like this just end up being plaintive, excessively tedious, and ineffective.

Instead, show that you can distinguish your key achievements (eg. top publications, grants won, invited talks) from the purely nice-to-have stuff (eg. seminar series organised, review articles, edited collections). Put your highlights and best evidence in the letter – leave the rest to the CV.

4) Think holistically

There's no need to try to make each application document do all the work for you. That leads to repetitiveness. Let them work together holistically. If there's a research proposal, why agonise over a lengthy paraphrase of the proposal in the cover letter? If there's a teaching statement, why write three more teaching paragraphs in your letter as well? Give me a quick snapshot and signpost where the rest of the information can be found, for example: "My next project will achieve X by doing Y. Further details, including funding and publication plans related to the project, are included in my research proposal."

5) Two sides are more than enough

There is no reason why your cover letter should need to go beyond two sides. In fact, I've seen plenty of people get shortlisted for fellowships and lectureships using a cover letter that fitted on to a single side of A4. It can be done – without shrinking the font and reducing the margins, neither of which, I'm sorry to break it to you, is an acceptable ruse. Besides, please have some sympathy for your readers: they have jobs to do and lives to lead; they will appreciate pith.

6) Writing about your research: why, not what

In almost every conceivable kind of academic application, fellowships included, it's very high risk to write about your research in such a way that it can only be understood by an expert in your field. It's far safer to pitch your letter so that it's comprehensible to a broader readership. You need to show a draft of your letter to at least one person who, as a minimum requirement, is outside your immediate group or department. Do they understand your research? Crucially, do they understand its significance? Before the selectors can care about the details of what you do, you have to hook their interest with why you do it.

Bad: "I work on the lived experiences of LGB people in contemporary Britain [why?]. I look particularly at secondary school children [why?], and I use mixed methods to describe their experiences of homophobic bullying [vague]. My PhD is the first full-length study of this topic [so what?]."

Better: "In recent years, significant progress has been made towards equality for lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) people living in Britain. However, young people aged 11-19 who self-identify as LGB are more likely to experience verbal and physical bullying, and they are at significantly greater risk of self-harm and suicide. In my dissertation, I conduct an ethnographic study of a large metropolitan secondary school, in order to identify the factors which lead to homophobic bullying, as well as policies and initiatives which LGB young people find effective in dealing with it."

7) Mind the gap

Be aware that "nobody has studied this topic before" is a very weak justification for a project. Nature may abhor a vacuum, but academia does not. Does it even matter that no previous scholarship exists on this precise topic? Perhaps it never merited all that money and time. What are we unable to do because of this gap? What have we been getting wrong until now? What will we be able to do differently once your project has filled this void?

8) Writing about teaching: avoid list-making

Avoid the temptation of list-making here, too. You don't need to itemise each course you have taught, because I've already read this on your CV, and there's no need to detail every module you would teach at the new department. Similarly, you don't need to quote extensively from student feedback in order to show that you're a great teacher; this smacks of desperation.

A few examples of relevant teaching and the names of some courses you would be prepared to teach will suffice. You should also give me an insight into your philosophy of teaching. What do students get out of your courses? What strategies do you use in your teaching, and why are they effective?

9) Be specific about the department

When explaining why you want to join the department, look out for well-intentioned but empty statements which could apply to pretty much any higher education institution in the world. For example, "I would be delighted to join the department of X, with its world-leading research and teaching, and I see this as the perfect place to develop my career." This won't do.

Deploy your research skills, use the internet judiciously, and identify some specifics. Are there initiatives in the department to which you could contribute, e.g. research clusters, seminar series, outreach events? What about potential collaborators (remembering to say what's in it for them)? What about interdisciplinary links to other departments in the institution?

10) Be yourself

It often feels like slim pickings when you're job hunting, and many people feel compelled to apply for pretty much any role which comes up in their area, even if it's not a great fit. But you still need to make the most of who you are, rather than refashioning yourself into an approximation of what you think the selectors want.

If you have a strong track record in quantitative research and you've spotted a job in a department leaning more towards qualitative methods, you might still decide to apply, but there's no point in trying to sell yourself as what you're not. They'll see through it, and you'll have downplayed your genuine successes for no reason.

Instead, make a case for why your achievements should be of interest to the department, for example by demonstrating how statistics would complement their qualitative work. At the end of the day, the best way to get shortlisted is to highlight bona fide achievements that are distinctive to you.

Steve Joy is careers adviser for research staff in the arts, humanities, and social sciences at the University of Cambridge – follow him on Twitter @EarlyCareerBlog

Do you have any tips to add? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Cover Letter Examples - Higher Education / Communications

Customizing your cover letter is a highly important part of an effective job application. A customized cover letter lays out all the reasons why an employer should hire you. Here's an example of a cover letter targeted for a job in the higher education industry, in the field of communications.

Remember, it should be used as inspiration only, and you should always tailor your cover letter to reflect your experience and the specific position for which you are applying.

Also see below for more examples of cover letters written for a job in communications.

Cover Letter Example - Higher Education / Communications

Your Name
Your Address
Your City, State, Zip Code
Your Phone Number
Your Email

Contact Person
Company Name
Address
City, State, Zip Code

Dear Contact Person:

As an experienced communications professional, I'm very interested in the position of Associate Vice President of University Campaign Communications at the University of North Florida.

I have a proven track record in a majority of the competencies you're seeking, especially in strategically communicating institutional priorities. I believe I would be the ideal candidate for this role, as my experience and my skills align with the role outlined in the job description.

Here are a few highlights of my candidacy:

  • Twelve years experience developing and implementing internal and external communications for ABCD Energy/Electric and ABCD Corporation.
  • Handling a wide range of creative services, collaborating with and supervising creative services staff and vendors to produce marketing and other print communications, as well as online communications and video projects.
  • Exceptional writing and editing skills honed over the past 13 years in public relations and corporate communications; from press releases to newsletters to video scripts to web sites and intranet publications.
  • Providing communications counsel and expertise to executives and managers for issues management, benefits communications and employee relations.

As a recent transplant to Miami, I still own a home in Tampa and would love to put my skills to work back in Tampa.

Please let me know if I can answer any questions or provide any work samples.

Sincerely,

Your Name

Cover Letter for a College Communications Position

Your Name
Your Address
Your City, State, Zip Code
Your Phone Number
Your Email

Contact Name
Title
Organization Name
Address
City, State, Zip Code

Dear Contact Person:

I am writing to indicate my interest in the position of Assistant Director of Campaign Communications. I'm a passionate supporter of our current campaign, and a fully-engaged member of the College community.

For many years, I've had a long and happy affiliation with this College, as an employee, parent (Marie '01), student, and Alumni Board member. My current position as Administrative Coordinator in the English Department has allowed close collaboration with my Chair, student majors, and 40-plus faculty, as well as many different offices and departments. It's been a joy to work in the English Department, though, as I near completion of my masters degree, I'm eager to use my talents in greater contribution to the College.

The position of Director of Campaign Communications provides a wonderful opportunity for the College to engage one of its most enthusiastic community members in promotion of its important message.

It is a position where my interpersonal and organizational skills, and experience with so many college constituencies, could be put to very productive and successful use.

Speaking to position qualifications, concentrations in literature and writing in both my undergraduate and graduate programs here have allowed me to become a skilled writer. I prefer to work in a tempest of activity and embrace challenges where solutions and problem-solving are necessary.

Technology is becoming a vital component in the day-to-day operations of most offices, and I look forward to incorporating the technologies I've used in the past, and I am very excited to work with new systems.

Organization is vital when balancing multiple projects and demands, and the ability to organize well has made my experience in the English Department much more rewarding.

Perhaps the greatest asset I offer is the ability to work with many personalities and groups of people, and I realize just how valuable that is when working with College constituencies, on committees, and in my work with our Alumni Board.

I can think of no better way to honor the riches of my education and work history than sharing the important message of this campaign.

I appreciate your considering my application. Please review the attached resume. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Signature (hard copy letter)

FirstName LastName

Cover Letter Example - Director of Communications

Your Name
Your Address
Your City, State, Zip Code
Your Phone Number
Your Email

Contact Name
Title
Company Name
Address
City, State, Zip Code

Dear Contact Person:

As an experienced communications professional, I'm very interested in the American Organization's Director of Communications position.

I have a proven track record in almost all of the competencies you're seeking. Here are a few highlights:

  • Handled a wide range of creative services, collaborating with creative services peers, subordinates and vendors to produce marketing and other print communications, as well online communications and video projects.
  • Exceptional writing and editing skills honed over the past 13 years in public relations and corporate communications; from press releases to newsletters to video scripts to websites and yes, guest columns.
  • Developing and implementing communications strategies for reaching employees and other stakeholders.
  • Providing communications counsel and expertise to executives and managers for issues management, benefits communications, and employee relations.

In my current role at Company A, I've worked closely with nonprofits while administering our corporate marine conservation donation program. This is the most rewarding part of my job, helping connect worthy organizations with funding.

I will call in one week to follow-up and find out if I can answer any questions or provide any work samples.

Sincerely,

Signature (hard copy letter)

FirstName LastName

More:Communication Skills for Resumes and Cover Letters

More Sample Cover Letters
Cover letter samples for a variety of career fields and employment levels, including an internship cover letter sample, entry-level, targeted and email cover letters.