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09/16/2013

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Roman

I suspect what this difference shows is that nobody knows what the ideal length for a cover letter is. There are a number of reasons. First, on the applicant side. I've noticed that when people get lots of interviews, or good jobs, or both, they assume that they must have done everything right and others should do the same. That assumption seems unwarranted (I'm sure we all know people who got great jobs but, from the outside, it seems pretty clear that this was just due to luck, or something about them that one can't replicate). Some people get interviews and jobs with one-page cover letters and some people get interviews and jobs with two-page cover letters.

Then there's the side of the hiring committee. Every time hiring discussions pop up on blogs, it becomes pretty obvious that there is no such thing as an application that everyone will like. Some people are annoyed by long letters, others are annoyed by short letters, others yet don't read the letters at all.

So maybe there just isn't an answer to the question and that's that, because responses to it are going to be opinions, and opinions about what works are going to vary with attitudes of committee members. (Although maybe there is a scientific answer: do a study that correlates length of letter with number of interviews and job offers by type of school, adjusting for pedigree, publications, gender, etc.)

Jenny

I think we should all assume that our applications are sitting in a pile of 200-400 applications as a first step, and that each *member* of each search committee will be looking for easy ways to thin the pile before reading any complete file. If the wrong person gets your application first - someone who dislikes one of your referees, or someone who holds strong opinions about ABDs/stale PhDs, in addition to someone who might be nitpicky about length of letter- then your application might not get a full read in any case. But what Roman says seems astute: "there is no such thing as an application that everyone will like". So, be sure that your application materials don't give search committees an easy way to be caught by the first filter - such as mentioning the wrong school, typos in your header, etc. And try to keep the letters reasonably short. But 1.5 pages is still reasonably short, and might allow you to leave much needed white space on the page. (Spacing between paragraphs, indentations, etc all make the letter easier to read.) Good luck, Cocooners.

Rachel

Good luck Cocooners (and non-Cocooners). :)

Daniel

Certainly, there is no silver bullet for applications, but a 1 page letter sounds incredibly short, especially on letterhead with the customary professional date/addressee/subject and "Sincerely, X" material.

Fortuna bona, omnia!

Rachel

http://chroniclevitae.com/articles/the-ordering-of-your-letter-and-the-handicap-of-the-a-b-d/

What she says at the beginning is consistent with what I've been saying, and I think I can confirm it based on my own experiences having just been hired in the previous cycle by a large liberal arts college (with 12+ full time philosophy faculty). Both finalists (since a third pulled out to take another position) are definitely "research" people who can also teach well. They didn't go after people who are great teachers and okay researchers: they prioritized research in their search, although being a good teacher was necessary.

H

I got hired with a cover letter a bit over 2 pages long. It's a large state school, not in Leiter's list. The profile was very specific. They required someone with a specific AOS, who within that AOS worked within a specific tradition. At the same time, they needed someone who can work in a non-philosophical discipline cognate to the AOS. And they required someone who was successful in getting grants, and with some teaching experience. To address all those bits competently, I needed 2 pages. In the interview it was clear they read all those cover letters carefully.
I also saw a cover letter of a friend who was hired by a SLAC. At the time of hiring, did not have any pubs and did not come from a Leiter-ranked program. His letter was a bit under 2 pages and carefully stated how he matched the AOS, and also how he fitted the (religious) profile of the school. Without any pubs or pedigree, I don't see how he could have made it to the shortlist without this excellent letter.
So while Rachel's experience may be different, those 2 data points suggest it's OK to make a bit of a longer cover letter (though I wouldn't push it - no more than 2 pages). Those letters get read and make a big difference

Rachel

To be sure, I broke the "rule" twice, when there were special circumstances that I wanted to address in my letters. You're quite right that in both the instances you list, a longer cover letter is called for (and I would have done the same).

If you're from the area of the job (e.g., you have family, or roots, or whatever), then this is something that should be discussed (and will take one over the 1pg limit). If the job ad is fairly complicated (e.g., they want someone who can mentor students from underrpresented groups, they want someone who can land grants, etc etc) then that should be addressed, and would increase the length. There are *lots* of exceptions to the general "rule" of 1pg.

Out of the 35 or so cover letters I wrote last year, 2 were >1pg, and I got fly-outs for both. So my advice shouldn't be taken as saying that one should *never* under no circumstances go over 1pg.

However, if it's a job in a fairly general AOS like M+E, and the job ad doesn't give one any reason to think that they're looking for something specific to be addressed in the cover letter, then I say let your dossier speak for itself, and don't bog down your cover letter. Use the cover letter to highlight things, to help them stand out.

Katie

My letters were 1.25 for research-oriented positions (2-3 load or less), and a bit longer for teaching-oriented positions (3-3 load or higher). This seemed to work fine.

Having been on the other side of the hiring process several times now, I would say that the cover letter really only plays a role in the initial winnowing process, after which the more substantive materials come into play. Make sure that it communicates your interest in the specific position and highlights your strengths, and then let the rest of the dossier do the real work.

Jack

I just looked at the cover letters I sent to schools that offered me December APA interviews (2005-09). Here are the word counts for those letters, earliest to latest, w/ info about type of position and school. None of these schools had PhD programs in philosophy. Some had MA programs.

210 (tt slac)
192 (tt rel)
187 (tt medium state u)
179 (tt med state u)
191 (tt med state u)
114 (tt med state u)
206 (vap private u)
196 (vap slac)
134 (tt slac)
148 (tt med state u)
262 (tt med state u)
425 (tt slac)
450 (tt med state u)
1075 (tt slac)
217 (tt slac)
619 (tt med state u)

I am not claiming that this proves much of anything. YMMV. Just adding it to the mix.

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