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Scott Clifton

Regarding the fourth question: I've heard that it's slightly insulting to say "I am a good fit because ..." or "I'm the ideal candidate because ..." since the committee will be a much better judge of that than the applicant. I think of the task as showing, rather than saying.


1 page (absolute maximum, except for very rare cases).

Intro paragraph (who you are, what you're applying for, when/where you got your PhD and your areas of specialization/competence), and what sort of research you do.

A paragraph on your future research plans, including publication goals/plans for the next couple years.

A paragraph on teaching.

Very short closing paragraph with contact info.

Go check out theprofessorisin.com. She has some great posts on it (and she helped me streamline mine).

Cover letters matter. A great one may get you a closer look; a good one won't hurt you (may not 'help' you); an average one may hurt you; a bad one will really hurt you.

Have a letter tailored for research and teaching institutions. Basically, flip their importance and expand on whichever matters more for the application. "Tailoring," though to specific jobs only happens in ONE paragraph where you address specific needs mentioned in the job ad. Tailoring each letter shouldn't take you more than 15-20min.

Don't talk about fit. You have NO idea what 'fit' means for that department and what they really need. When I was at the E-APA, I overheard some people on the market talking about interviews (helping each other practice), and one said, "And don't forget to talk about fit!" I laughed! I thought "yeah, talk about fit...you're making it easier for me, then." Fit matters, but that's out of your control. All you can do is present yourself so they can SEE how and whether you fit. Your telling them how you fit is a terrible idea (because you can't know).

I'd share my letters, but they're proprietary, sorry.

Marcus Arvan

Rachel: Thanks for the tips. The one page maximum rule you give surprises me, at least for SLAC jobs. Taking into account space for addresses (yours and theirs) and the introduction and closing, this seems to leave precious little space for saying much about *why* you'd be a good fit for the position (how your research fits the AOS, how your teaching experience and philosophy addresses an SLAC's mission, etc.).

Does everyone agree with Rachel's "one page max" rule? I am particularly curious to hear what search committee members think!


I got a *lot* of interviews this past year, from SLACs, to large liberal arts colleges (where I took my position), to large undergrad uni's, to large PhD institutions. A 1-pager for all of them. The were only two jobs for which I went over 1page: one was in the same town I'd been living for the past 5yrs (so I wanted to say something about how much I like the area and I want to stay); the other was for a job that had some non-standard things in the job ad that I wanted to spend more time responding to specifically. (I got on-campus visits for both.)

So what I'm saying is that it worked for all sorts of institutions, from teaching-focused to research-focused, and everything in between.

Well, like I said, don't don't say anything about "fit." You just show yourself.

Intro paragraph: I'm applying to position x at university y. My AOS's are, my AOC's are. I received my PhD from z in v. My research focuses on... This has resulted in a number of publications, including in journals x, y, and z.

2nd paragraph (for research): In my future work, I plan to expand into topic A. This is a natural extension of my work on B. I'm also interested in working on topic C, which has connections to work I've done on D.

3rd paragraph (teaching): I have experience teaching undergraduate philosophy courses on a, b, c, and d. (This is where you name topics that the ad has listed as their teaching needs: what they list should be included in the list you just gave.) Say a little bit about what distinguishes you as a teacher. Don't talk about your feelings, what's important to you, or how much you care: talk about what you *do.* E.g., "In my courses, I engage students by regularly incorporating activities such as x and y..." Or talk about how you're innovative with technology, or whatever. Point to your enclosed teaching portfolio (which, at a minimum, needs to have a well thought-out teaching philosophy and sample syllabi).

Short closing paragraph: You're available to meet or chat at their convenience and can be contacted at....


For research heavy institutions, play up a bit more about research. For teaching heavy institutions, play down the 'future research' stuff and say more about your teaching methods and approach.

Marcus Arvan

Rachel: very interesting - and thank you (sincerely) for the tips. If you're right (and as of now I have no reason to think otherwise), I've been doing these wrong. The kind of letter you're suggesting seems very "bare bones" (viz., here's what I do research on, here are some things I do in my teaching). I guess I'm surprised that going this bare bones is what SCs would look for (it would seem to me to be very hard to distinguish one candidate from another), but I guess I should trust you!

Marcus Arvan

Seriously, Rachel - I just re-wrote one of my letters following your advice. It is *so* much better. Thanks again! :)


Unless you have something that *really* distinguishes you for a job (and this *may* happen in some rare cases), you don't distinguish yourself in the cover letter. You do that in your CV and your writing sample. From there it's up to whether the committee judges you as a good 'fit', which is utterly out of your control.

As I say, there were only two letters where I could really distinguish myself -- where it was clear that my characteristics were especially well suited for the posted position, and so I used the cover letter to highlight what I thought those features were. But that was merely my responding *directly* to what was in the job ad. There are some combinations of characteristics that can be rare, and sometimes we have them...so when that rare job comes up, the cover letter is a great place to jump out of the crowd. However, if it's a standard job in your AOS, then you're not going to distinguish yourself in the cover letter. So don't even try.

I paid Karen from theprofessorisin to help me with my cover letters, and she ripped them apart, and helped me put them back together. It was a tough process, but it definitely worked well for me.


...oh, and the job I accepted was one of my utterly 'stock' cover letters where

I merely changed my one 'tailor' paragraph to include some of the language in the job ad. I happened to do this in my teaching paragraph, since the only distinguishing feature of the ad was that they wanted someone who can connect philosophical issues to student's daily lives. I said I do that and gave an example or two how I accomplish that in my teaching.

I even got an on-campus at a large PhD-granting department with my stock "bare bones" (as you call it) letter.


I'm a little late to the party, but I agree with Rachel, for the most part.

I work at a regional state u. We have some research responsibilities, but mostly teach. We completed a search in the last couple of years. I personally prefer the sort of letter Rachel describes. I don't know how my colleagues felt about letters.

I prefer a letter that quickly summarizes your qualifications. I will seek confirmation of your claimed qualifications in the rest of your dossier.

I don't actually mind a letter that ends at the *top* of page two, but I think letters that reach the bottom are too long.

When I was a grad student, I was part of a couple of search committees. After a few retirements, my program was interested in raising its profile relatively quickly. For these searches, we were most interested in finding people who could publish in good journals. The professors here were researchers first.

Though I prefer a certain type of cover letter, they don't really matter a whole lot to me, at least not directly. Your whole file carries a lot more weight. Your file can outweigh a poor letter.

Still, it may help to think of the cover letter as the first impression you make on others. Say something interesting about yourself, but don't become a bore.

Last, fwiw, I used a letter like the one Rachel describes when I was on the market. However, I was not nearly as successful as Rachel. I did get interviews each year I was on the market though (several years), and I did land a tt spot that I am very happy to have landed. It just took me a little while to land it.


I'm still curious about this point Rachel brings up: "I have experience teaching undergraduate philosophy courses on a, b, c, and d. (This is where you name topics that the ad has listed as their teaching needs: what they list should be included in the list you just gave.)" Of course I've seen this before, and I'm not doubting it. But say you're an adjunct and have literally zero control over the courses you get to teach. So they are all either intro or history courses (but, say, nobody would hire you to teach history, because it isn't your AOS). Any suggestions?

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