Information on this page includes:
- Cover Letter
- Curriculum Vitae (CV)
- Teaching Statement
- Research Statement
- Letters of Recommendation
- Additional Materials
For most academic positions, the standard package of application materials includes a cover letter, curriculum vitae (CV), and letters of recommendation (usually three). Some institutions may also request a teaching statement and/or research statement, and additional materials.
Announcements typically ask for a “cover letter,” "letter of application," or “letter of interest.” If such a letter is not requested, you are encouraged to send one anyway unless specifically instructed not to do so. The role of the cover letter is to interpret your CV for a specific audience and to elaborate on your qualifications for a specific position. It gives you the opportunity to make a good first impression, to show off your professionalism and ability to persuade, and to have a voice, which the CV does not communicate.
General Cover Letter Tips and Format
Even though effective cover letters follow a similar structure, you should tailor each letter to the particular department/institution that will receive it. Review the job announcement carefully and design your letter according to the information it contains as well as other information you gain by researching the department/institution. Pay close attention to language. Are there key words, phrases, or concepts that recur? If so, you may want to use them, too.
Sections of the Cover Letter
Address your letter to a named individual, if possible, using the person’s formal title (e.g. Professor, Dr.). If you do not have a name, it is acceptable to begin with “Dear Committee Members,” “To the Members of the Search Committee,” or another variation.
Your opening paragraph sets the tone for the rest of your letter. It should be brief and should pique the reader’s interest. Begin with a statement of purpose, mentioning the position for which you are applying by title. (It is not uncommon for a department to conduct multiple searches simultaneously.) Tell how you learned of the opening. If someone referred you, mention the person’s name. Identify yourself briefly and mention your dissertation adviser by name and when you expect to complete your PhD at U.Va. You may also introduce your interest in the position or make a claim for your candidacy (which you will elaborate on later in the letter).
The next paragraphs should be discussions of your qualifications as they directly match the position. Use the language of the announcement and the department’s/institution’s website to guide you. The cover letter allows you to elaborate on information in your CV (e.g. you were the only graduate student presenting at a prestigious conference). If applying for a research position or a teaching position at a research institution, discuss your research and research interests first. Provide context for your work and show that you are a forward-thinking scholar. Conversely, if applying to a teaching institution, first discuss your teaching and touch upon your teaching philosophy—even if a separate “Statement of Teaching Philosophy” is required. Be sure to mention experience with new pedagogies or technologies in the classroom. If you have limited or no teaching experience, discuss what you would teach and how. Avoid excessive jargon; use crisp, clear prose that will make your audience want to know more. You will impress the committee if you show connections between your research and teaching.
Do not shy away from self-promotion. Draw attention to the strengths and qualifications that make you distinctly suited to perform the job (doing so is crucial, not repetitive). You can avoid sounding (and feeling) arrogant by making objective, verifiable statements (e.g. “I received the 2005 Outstanding History Teaching Assistant Award,” “I have consistently received superior student evaluations) rather than subjective statements (e.g. “I am an outstanding teacher.”)
Address any other requirements or particulars that may support your candidacy. If you anticipate the search committee raising a certain question, address that question upfront in your cover letter. Discuss your fit with the position/department/institution and any special reasons for your interest.
Conclude your letter by restating you interest in the position. As applicable, indicate how references or other required materials will be submitted under separate cover, and direct readers to any supporting material online. Mention any specifics about your availability for an interview. Thank the committee for considering your application. Sign your letter, with your name typed below, followed by “Enclosure” or “Enclosures” on the next line.
Generally speaking, sending unsolicited materials is discouraged. In your conclusion you can offer to send additional materials if the search committee would like to see them.
Length and Format
Cover letters in the natural sciences and social sciences are typically about 1 page long. Letters in the humanities are often longer. It is difficult to discuss your research and teaching well in 1 page, so the specifics of the position impact the length of your letter. Letters over 2 pages in length risk losing the reader’s interest. The text of your letter should be single-spaced with 2 spaces between paragraphs. If submitting hard copies, use the same high-quality paper you use for your CV. You may wish to use departmental letterhead for your cover letter if you have access to it. Alternatively, using the same heading for your CV and cover letter to create a stationery effect can help to unify your documents in an attractive way. Use the same font throughout.
Keep in mind that search committees consider the cover letter to be a sample of a candidate's writing ability, so be sure that it is written well. Also express your voice; a cover letter is not a scholarly article. Seek advice from your adviser and have others proofread your letter for any errors or other problems. Be positive—say nothing negative.
Sample Cover Letters
Te curriculum vitae, also known as “vita” (without the “e”) and abbreviated as "CV,” is a comprehensive overview of your educational background and academic qualifications. It is the standard statement of credentials within academe and the research world, and the foundation of an application for an academic or research position, akin to the resume for job markets outside of academics. As is the case for all application materials, your CV should be tailored to each job opportunity and should emphasize your strongest qualifications.
While there is no limit to length, the CV must concisely convey information. In the early stages of the applicant screening process, search committee members will probably spend less than one minute scanning each CV to reduce a large pool of applicants to a manageable list of qualified candidates. To increase your chances of making the short list, you should prepare an attractive CV that clearly and succinctly identifies the qualifications that make you a good fit for the position.
While general guidelines are presented here, you are strongly urged to consult with faculty in your department for guidance. Given that CV styles change over time, it can also be instructive to look at the CVs of junior scholars in your field, particularly those who hold the kinds of positions that interest you.
General CV Tips
Keep a Master Document
A good way to begin crafting a CV is to record all of your educational, academically-related, and field-related history. Keep an up-to-date, electronic master list that you can revise to customize individual CVs for specific opportunities. In customizing your CV you may want to rearrange sections (e.g. teaching before research or vice versa), include or exclude a section (e.g. community service for a job at a small teaching college but not for a research position), or expand or reduce the detail within a section.
Your CV should always include information about your basic qualifications, but you can send different messages by presenting that information differently depending on the institutions or departments to which you are applying. Remember that search committees may receive dozens, if not hundreds, of CVs. The information that has the most meaning to them should come early in your CV to grab their attention. Institutions have different missions, goals, and “brands,” and you should present your qualifications in such a way that makes it easy for readers to imagine you as a member of their community. For example, you may want to highlight your teaching experience for a small liberal arts college, whereas a research university would likely be more interested in your research, awards, publications, and presentations.
There are many ways to customize a CV. You may decide to list another reference based on the desired specialization of a particular position. Or you may choose to include extra-academic information (e.g. in a section on service or affiliations) if appropriate to the mission of the institution. Keep in mind that the cover letter provides an opportunity to elaborate on your fit.
Choose an Appropriate Format and Organization
A good CV is clear, easy to process quickly, and captures the reader’s attention at first glance. Your language should be succinct and unambiguous. Your format and organization should be logical, consistent, and should guide your readers smoothly through the document.
Below are basic recommendations:
- Choose an attractive font.
- Depending on the font, use a 10- to 12-point font size with 1”- to 1.5”-inch margins.
- Enlarge/bold your name on the first page.
- Include your name & the page number in a header/footer on each page after the first.
- List dates to the right as opposed to first in entries (left).
- Use reverse chronological order within sections.
- Avoid underlining.
- Use caps/bolding/italics selectively and consistently.
- Avoid personal pronouns.
- Use action verbs; numbers are also effective in descriptions.
- Use parallel grammar and minimal punctuation.
- Use section headings to guide your audience; sub-headings in lengthy sections further facilitate this process.
- Be careful not to pluralize section headings that cover only one entry.
- You may choose to include a “Revised [date]” notation in a footer.
- Proofread, proofread, proofread—there is no excuse for typographical error.
- Have colleagues review your CV.
Think about how information is processed visually. Material near the top of the page tends to draw more attention than material at the bottom. The eye crosses the page from left to right, which means that the most important information in a given entry should receive visual emphasis on left. Compare the following two entries:
|PhD, Chemistry, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA||May 2008|
2002-2008, University of Virginia Department of Chemistry, Doctorate of Philosophy
Note also the effectiveness of using white space between the date and the other information in the first entry.
There is no exhaustive list of CV sections. In making your document your own, rely on your judgment and faculty advice. Below is list of common CV sections for general guidance:
While you should aim to be concise yet thorough in your CV, remember that standards vary by discipline. Check with your department for field-specific guidelines. Typically, CVs for ABDs and new PhDs range from 2-4 pages, but it is not uncommon for the exceptionally accomplished to produce longer documents.
Finally, if sending hard copies of your materials use high quality “resume” paper in white or off-white and submit only single-sided laser quality copies. Use paperclips, not staples, to assemble your documents.
“The Basics of Science C.V.’s: A Sample Teaching C.V.,” Mary Morris Heiberger and Julie Miller Vick, Chronicle of Higher Education (2003)
Sample CV - Research (.pdf, 97KB)
Sample CV - Teaching (.pdf, 133KB)
Most academic job announcements request three letters of recommendation. Think carefully about whom you will ask to recommend you. You should ask your dissertation adviser (the absence of this reference would raise serious questions) and other faculty with whom you have worked closely in a research or teaching capacity to the extent that those skills apply to the position you seek. Recommenders should know you and at least some component of your work well. It is wise to phrase your request for a recommendation so that the individual may decline gracefully if for some reason s/he feels unable to write a positive letter on your behalf (e.g. "Do you feel you know me and my work well enough to serve as a positive reference?") It is much better to know upfront that a letter would not be strong rather than weaken your credentials file with a lukewarm or bad reference. You should discuss the following with your recommenders:
- How your work fits within its disciplinary context
- Time-to-degree; your plan for completing the dissertation
- The kinds of jobs for which you will apply
- Your teaching (if relevant to the sort of position you seek)
Asking your recommender in person is best, if possible, but you should also follow up with a written confirmation of your request and the faculty member's willingness to serve as a reference (an email exchange is fine). Be sure to give your references an up-to-date copy of your polished CV and other materials that may help them flesh out their letters with specific, positive comments about you and your work. Other materials may inclue a dissertation chapter or other writing sample, a statement of research goals, a course syllabus, etc. This information may also help them tailor their letters for particular positions. Let your recommenders know about the positions you intend to apply for. If a certain position interests you more than others, you may also want to give your references a copy of that announcement and relevant information about the department/institution, etc.
Give your recommenders plenty of lead time for letter writing. As long as you respect the standard protocols and courtesies, you need not worry about being an imposition on a recommender’s time. Remember that professional reproduction is part of the business of academe, and placing graduate students in good positions is in the department’s best interest.
A research statement, or statement of research interests or plans, is a brief summary of your work (usually 1-2 pages written in the first person) that orients readers to your specific interest within the broader discipline and describes how your research fits within the context of developments in the field. Your statement should address:
- The importance of your work
- Your audience/s
- Key questions
- Plans, methodologies for addressing questions
- Funding/resources you will seek
The length of research statements and amount of detail provided varies among disciplines. Consult with your adviser and others in your field for guidance. It may also be wise to tailor your research statement to particular job postings and institutions. It is reasonable to assume that most small institutions do not have the same space, equipment, etc. as large research universities.
All graduate students interested in teaching careers are strongly urged to take advantage of the U.Va. Teaching Resource Center. The TRC is designed to enhance the teaching abilities and professional development of faculty and graduate students at U.Va. The TRC provides a wealth of resources, including sample documents, to help you craft your reflective teaching statement (also referred to as a statement of teaching philosophy) and other materials related to teaching. In addition to its extensive library, the TRC offers a wide range of programs, maintains a listserv to which you can subscribe, and coordinates a staff of consultants available to assist you.
Similar to the research statement in form, the teaching statement, or statement of teaching philosophy, is a 1- to 2-page essay written in the first person that describes your approach to teaching and why you do it. The teaching statement typically addresses:
- Your teaching methods
- Your beliefs justifying those methods
- Teaching goals
- Tools you use (e.g. technology)
- An account of how you support diversity, including diverse ways of learning
- Specific examples from your experience
A teaching portfolio is a collection of materials that describes your teaching strengths and accomplishments. A portfolio is not an inventory but instead a thoughtfully prepared compilation of materials that collectively illustrate your identity and abilities as a teacher. Though not typically required in the initial application package for most academic searches, you may be asked for your portfolio at a later point in the screening process. A portfolio is not something one can easily slap together at the last minute, so be prepared. Even if it is not requested, you may want to offer your portfolio while interviewing at an institution that values teaching highly.
A teaching portfolio may include, for example:
- Reflective Teaching Statement
- List of courses taught
- List of teaching awards and certificates
- Sample syllabus
- Teaching evaluation by faculty member or TRC consultant
- Sample/analysis of student evaluations
- Sample course materials (e.g. course assignments, handouts, exams)
- Teaching goals
- Professional development in teaching
The design, presentation, and contents of teaching portfolios vary widely from one individual to another, and from discipline to discipline. For this reason, you are encouraged to consult the Teaching Resource Center for guidance and valuable resources. The TRC also maintains a collection of sample teaching portfolios of U.Va. faculty and TAs that spans most disciplines.
Some search committees request academic transcripts, most commonly in the performing arts. Official transcripts are sent directly from an institution’s registrar and usually take several days to process. The registrar may require a letter of request in hard copy from you, so allow plenty of time to make these requests and have them processed. Occasionally applicants are also asked to submit official transcripts of their undergraduate and master's programs. To request transcripts from U.Va., please visit the Office of the University Registrar.
Search committees may require a short description of your dissertation. Standard practice varies by discipline, but generally speaking, a dissertation abstract is typically a 1-2 page essay. Some abstracts begin by placing the work in the context of the existing literature and research in the field. All abstracts should be clear, easy to follow, and should express the scope and significance of the project. The abstract should be written in an appropriate authorial voice that will help to define the author as an expert. Writing a dissertation abstract is good preparation for job interviews as it prompts you to discuss your work and its context succinctly. You will want to work with your adviser and other committee members as you craft this document to ensure that you are following disciplinary customs.
Some search committees ask for a writing sample—usually a journal article or dissertation chapter. Submit a sample that best represents the quality and significance of your work.