Guide to Cover Letters

September 14, 2015

OITE Guide to Cover LettersYour cover letter is often the first document an employer sees. It serves not only as an introduction to your résumé or CV but to you and your writing style. Take advantage of this opportunity to expand upon your qualifications.

A cover letter also allows you to:
» Elaborate on important experiences/skills and relate them to job requirements.
» Explain your experiences through anecdotes that work in conjunction with the information provided on your résumé/CV.
» Highlight the fact that you took the time to tailor your job application.
» Provide a sample of your written communication skills

You should always send a cover letter with your résumé or CV.  The only exception would be if the position description explicitly states “no cover letters”.

How can you go about creating one? OITE has created a newly updated Guide to Cover Letters.

This guide will help you create your own cover letter and is full of:

  • Recommendations and tips
  • Formatting requirements
  • Variety of sample cover letters, including an email inquiry sample

Remember, the OITE also has a Guide to Résumés and Curricula Vitae.  If you need additional guidance,  make an appointment to discuss your documents with an OITE career counselor.

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Getting a Faculty Job

August 26, 2013

‘Tis the season for academic faculty job searches.  From summer until late fall, the bulk of faculty jobs are accepting applications to fill positions that begin in the fall of the following year.  If you are considering this route, here are some things you need to think about:

  1. What kind of school do you want to be at?
    Do you want to be at a large research university (like Columbia University in NYC), a state school that terminates in a master’s program (like Eastern Michigan University), or a liberal arts environment (like Swarthmore College).  Each of these types of institutions has different expectations regarding the amount of teaching and research expected from faculty.  Different institutions/schools have different expectations for grant funding, teaching, and service. Be sure to consider the type of position you are looking for so you can prepare the strongest possible package.Another question to consider: does the location and setting (urban/suburban) matter to you? To research schools, look at the Carnegie Classifications.
  2. Find positions that interest you.
    Many schools post their openings on-line at sites including:  Science Careers, New Scientist Jobs, Academic 360, Nature, Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), Cell Careers, Higher Education Recruitment Consortium, The Chronicle of Higher Education.  You should also look at your favorite schools’ websites.  Network with faculty at meetings or conferences to get the insider’s information on openings.
  3. Start to prepare your job application package.
    a.   CV – a record of your academic career.  Your CV will be tailored differently if it is a research-intensive position or if it is a teaching-intensive position.b.   Cover Letter – This is a document that is very tailored to the job for which you are applying.  This document allows you to explain why you are interested in this particular college, and how you see your research goals fitting into their overall department.

    c.   Research Plan – The goal here is to get your future colleagues to be excited about you and your science.  This document typically includes some discussion of prior research accomplishments, but you should specifically highlight the work most relevant to your proposed work.  You need to lay out a do-able research plan for the next 5+ years with a focus on explaining how the work you are currently proposing fits into your broader long-term goals. Depending on the position, you may want to explain how you will tailor your research for students at the institution; this is especially important if the expectation is that you will engage large numbers of undergrads in your research.

    d.   Teaching Plan – If you will have a teaching component of your job, this part of your application tells them about your personal beliefs on teaching and gives a description of how you teach. It should have specific examples and reflect that you understand the student population at that specific institution.

    e.   Letters of recommendation – You should start to line your letters up early.  They need to be very strong.

In this tight academic job market, one major key to success is preparation. You need to be sure you have your papers published, that you have obtained the appropriate amount of teaching experience, and that you have researched the institution to be sure it is the right fit. Starting early and getting a lot of input is key. If you are an NIH trainee (or local to the DC area) join us for the first of our series on securing a faculty job on Aug 28: Academic Job Search.  If you cannot make this event, watch our videos online: Academic Job Search Overview.


You forgot your job packet email attachment– What now?

February 25, 2013

You found an awesome job posting or graduate program, crafted the perfect curriculum vitae, and created a cover letter capable of convincing the staunchest of holdouts that you are a vital addition to their team. The only problem is you remembered to attach your resume after pressing send on your cover letter e-mail. Forgotten attachments happen to everyone, but the job application process is where you are supposed to distinguish yourself as a better candidate than everyone else. So – now what?

Unlike many career advice searches on the internet, there are not a lot of professional sites with comments on forgotten attachments. The obvious action requires you to send the forgotten materials; otherwise there is no chance for success. The real question remains: How do provide the missing information while saving face?

Do you apologize for the mistake? Do you try to act as if it never happened? The best route is to resend the same e-mail (with the attachment this time) with a comment in the title about the inclusion. Do not write a long, apologetic paragraph about forgetting the attachment. This reaction makes a big deal out of a common mistake and can make you seem insecure. At the same time you need to say something to differentiate the new e-mail from the old one so the hiring manager or principal investigator does not think you are spamming them. One postdoc recently forgot to attach their resume to a cold call e-mail and recovered by simply sending the same e-mail entitled “Employment inquiry at blah with attached resume”, and received a positive response.

For the most part, human resources and principal investigators tend to be pretty forgiving. Just keep in mind they are judging you at every interaction – this can be a time to show your ability to recover gracefully from a difficult situation.

Mistakes made during the application process may come back to haunt you during the interview. Keep in mind that if you are being interviewed that the company/ principal investigator thinks you might be a good fit for them. Do not be the one to bring up a past mistake. Do not give them a reason to deny you the position. Only talk about a past error from your application process if they ask about it. Be prepared with an answer that puts you in a positive light, not something like you were too busy applying to their competitor and forgot the attachment to them.

Of course, the better strategy is to remember the attachment. Make a list of things, mentally or written down, that you always check before submitting any application. Some items to include can be; properly addressing the cover letter, attaching the required documentation, filling in the subject line, and using spell check (spell check will not reliably catch names).  Leave a comment with other items you think the email proof-reading list should include.

 

 


Putting Together Your Job Package

September 4, 2012

If you have been following out Calendar for Career Success, you know that August is the time to put together your job packages.  Whether it be for an academic positions, a postdoc or a transition to a new career field, you need to have a competitive application.  We have provided some information below we feel will be helpful in this endeavor.


Top 7 Reasons That You Should Visit A Career Counselor

February 6, 2012

In the beginning of January, we posted a calendar with monthly steps to move your career forward.  The February task was to meet with a career counselor.  Here at OITE, we have two career counselors on staff.  Anne and Elaine were kind enough to introduce themselves on the blog a couple of years ago.  What makes them an enormous asset for you is that they exclusively advise scientists.  They understand the career dynamics of fellows here at NIH and researchers in general.  They have a wide breadth of knowledge and experience in career counseling and have already helped hundreds of fellows take the next step in their careers. 

Whether you know where your career is heading or not, meeting with a career counselor can help you be more competitive in fulfilling your career goals.  With the help of our two career counselors on staff at OITE, we have determined the top 7 reasons to visit a career counselor.

Read the rest of this entry »


Tomorrow’s Professor: Preparing for the Academic Job Market

October 7, 2010

auditoriumDuring the AAAS talk last week on the academic job market, I was encouraged by the opinions shared by current faculty. I imagined that the academic job market was as bleak–if not more so–than the non-academic market. On the contrary…to paraphrase the speakers, “the best people are still finding jobs.” Still, you must put your best foot forward to be a standout candidate on the academic market.

If you find the entire process of applying for academic jobs overwhelming, or are not sure where to start, check out the OITE workshop held last month for an overview of the academic job market and tips on preparing your application package. You might also want to view the OITE videocast on this same topic from the fall of 2009. Additionally, appointments with OITE’s trained career counselors are available to plan your next steps.

Think about the documents you need to submit. Are you satisfied with them? How many people have you shared them with? Consider having your PI review your CV, letter, or entire packet, and remember that staff within OITE can review them as well.

For tips on writing/editing your CV and letter, check out these OITE resources:

Also, check out this blog post for the review of a real CV from a trainee interested in teaching-intensive faculty positions.

If you would like to see more CV and letter samples and read more about the academic job market, take a look at the 4th edition of the Academic Job Search Handbook Exit Disclaimer, the standard bearer on this topic. This book is also available via OITE’s circulating library. Visit the 2nd floor of Building 2 to check it out.

When should you be lining up letters of recommendation? When are positions typically posted? When should you put together and practice your job talk? For a comprehensive timeline of the academic job search, check out this OITE resource.

To prepare for a potential interview, don’t miss OITE’s upcoming workshop, Academic Job Interviews, taking place on December 6, 2010, from 3-5pm in the Natcher Conference Center, E1/E2. This workshop is the second in the CAT tracks series on academic jobs.

The third session in the series, Academic Job Seach: Recent Success Stories, is a panel discussion featuring former NIH fellows who will share their experiences with the academic job search and answer questions on applications, interviews, negotiating, and getting started with the teaching, research, and/or patient care responsibilities. This program will take place on February 1, 2011.

If you would like to learn more about interviews before the December workshop, check out last year’s OITE presentation and accompanying videocast on the same topic, or read through the OITE handout on academic interviewing.

Once you reach the negotiating stage, you will need to be prepared with all the information necessary to secure a fair package. For more guidance in this preparation, attend the 4th OITE workshop in the CAT tracks series, Evaluating Positions and Negotiating Offers, taking place on March 2, 2011. Last year’s slides and videocast are available through OITE for viewing, as is a sample offer letter, which may prove very helpful if you are unsure of what to look for.

Once you have accepted a position, you might consider the following to assist you with the transition to full-time faculty work:

  • Transitioning Successfully from Postdoc to Faculty, OITE workshop (3-16-2010)
  • Tomorrow’s  Professor: Preparing for Academic Careers in Science and Engineering, Rick Reis. Available via OITE’s circulating library.
  • Tomorrow’s Professor listserv Exit Disclaimer (helpful resource for all faculty, postdocs, graduate students, and administrators)
  • At the Helm: A Laboratory Navigator, Kathy Barker. Available via OITE’s circulating library.

Best of luck exploring and preparing to enter this challenging and rewarding career!


Back to Basics: Crafting a Winning Cover Letter

August 19, 2010

Vintage typewriter 2“To Whom It May Concern”…no, that’s not right….”Dear Sir/Madam”….ugh, that’s so outdated….”Dear I-Don’t-Know-Your-Name-and-I’d-Rather-Be-Playing-Scramble-Right-Now…”

Where to start? Many of us still struggle when it comes to crafting a cover letter for a job of interest. I thought it might be valuable to review some of the basics, as job hunting may be new to some of us, while others of us may know that we need to strengthen our letters, based on a lack of positive feedback. Let’s begin:

Q: How should I address my letter if I don’t have a name?

A: Stay away from “Sirs” and “Madams,” and try a title instead. Use something like “Dear Director of Personnel,” “Dear Search Committee Chair,” etc.

Q: How long should my letter be?

A: 1-2 pages should suffice.

Q: What should I include?

A: Rather than repeating information that can easily be found on your résumé/CV, use the space available in a letter to outline how well you fit the position. Here are some basics:

1st paragraph: Mention the position title and where you found the posting. And be sure to express enthusiasm. This paragraph tends to be fairly short.

2nd-4th paragraphs: Highlight ways in which your education/experience/background make you a great match for the position. Use specifics, quantify results if you can, mention milestones, achievements, etc. Just be sure to connect your skills and experiences to the job at hand.

5th/Closing paragraph: Finish with the best way to reach you, reiterate your interest in and fit for the position, and indicate that you will follow up.

Q: When should I hear back? Is it ok to contact the employer to find out where my application stands?

A: If you have not heard any response within two weeks after you submit your materials, get back in touch with the employer. And rather than asking about your candidacy, ask the following two questions:

1) Have you received my materials?

2) What is your timeline for this search?

Both are appropriate questions to ask and will give you a sense of where things stand.

If you would like to have your cover letter reviewed before sending it out, consider making an appointment with an OITE career counselor, or email it to msinche@gmail.com for feedback. Good luck!