In the world of employment, first impressions may not always be based on your performing ability but on professional documents. These include your résumé, curriculum vitae, cover letter, teaching statement, and more. How do you represent yourself on paper? What makes you unique? The Office of Careers and Professional Development offers handbooks and sample materials to address the special needs of musicians to help you rise to the next level in your search.
Format and length
Most cover letters should be 1 page in length, but for some higher ed/leadership positions 1.5 pages may be appropriate. It is standard to use block form which includes the recipient’s address above the salutation and spaces between paragraphs with no indentation, as shown in the example to the left.
Prose and tone
Your audience will likely include a chair of the department and/or senior faculty members, so keep your prose professional. The cover letter should compel the reader to take a closer look at your résumé or CV by highlighting your best and most relevant experiences or accomplishments. Don’t be afraid to make positive statements about yourself. It may feel strange to “brag” about your abilities, but this positive detailing is permissible in cover letters and interviews. The first two paragraphs are especially important for making your sales pitch as to why the organization should hire you.
Transitions and structure
Be careful not to simply rehash your résumé or CV in prose form. Instead, use your experiences as evidence to demonstrate your skills or readiness for the role. What are the transferable skills or ideas? Connect the dots for your readers so that they understand how your previous experiences relate to the open position. This can be done quite effectively in transitions at the beginning or end of a paragraph. Check each paragraph to ensure that there is a clear flow between ideas.
Use the job announcement to identify useful keywords. Consider how to address the various responsibilities of the position and find ways to apply or mirror these keywords within your cover letter. However, avoid copying the announcement or using entire phrases verbatim.
- Avoid starting too many sentences and paragraphs with “I” statements.
- Keep your conclusion somewhat short and don’t waste space referencing which documents you are including. Instead, use this space to reiterate your interest in the specific position/school/organization and your desire to speak with the hiring committee about your qualifications.
- Consider including your signature as a cropped image just to further personalize your letter.
- Send your cover letter and résumé as a PDF so that no formatting will be lost.
For more examples, see the Cover Letter Handbook.