A common approach to writing cover letters is to show a lot of self-love. Candidates outline all the high quality experiences they’ve had, the programs they’ve developed, their keen insights and intellectual prowess, and the amazing leadership skills acquired as higher education professionals. Hire me! And many applicants will simply synthesize and reiterate what is already found in the resume. I heard a committee member say, with clear disappointment, “Why do so many candidates repeat what is already in their resume? I read their resume!”
Clearly, you do want to highlight the superlative knowledge, skills, and leadership experiences you have… but… you need to link those to the job for which you are applying. Remember that your resume looks back on past experiences; your cover letter looks ahead – to the university you now want to join. So show some love! Why do you want to be a part of the institution? How does the institution’s mission and vision fit with your values as a professional? Outline what you know about the university’s strategic plan and how your experiences might help them in moving those goals forward. What is it that draws you to the institution, the position, and the opportunities that await? I have heard many candidates comment, “I would love to work there,” but one would be hard-pressed to get a sense of that excitement in reading the cover letter. On a more pragmatic note, you will also want to look closely at the position’s required qualifications, minimum and preferred, and ensure that you speak to those requirements either in your resume or cover letter. Many institutions have a baseline expectation that if all required qualifications are not demonstrated in application materials, the application must go to the “do not advance” pile.
Committees will quickly sense if you are submitting a fairly generic cover letter (where, if you swapped out the institution’s name, you could use the same letter for a similar job at any university) – or if you have taken the time to research them, focus on them, and highlight what you know about the qualities, goals, and values of their institution. They also want to know how you see yourself as a fit for the position. Most pools of candidates will have numerous applicants who clearly have the skills to do the job… and it is often that early sense of “fit” that will help candidates rise within the pool. So be your own matchmaker and show them a little care, attention, and affection.