Should one always write a cover letter when applying for faculty positions, even when not explicitly asked for in the job post?

If it depends on the field and/or type of university, please specify. If it matters, I'm applying to Physics departments in universities which primarily emphasize research, which already require (at least) a CV, research statement, teaching statement, and letters of recommendation.


4 Answers 4


The cover letter is one place in your application where you can explain why you're interested in this particular position including both professional reasons ("I'd really like to work with your library's archive of original manuscripts by P.D.Q. Bach") and personal reasons ("My in-laws happen to live in your small town and my spouse would like to move back.") Showing that you know something about the location, the the institution, and the particular position can be a helpful factor if you're on the borderline for an interview.

If there's really nothing special that you want to say then a generic two sentence cover letter won't greatly hurt your chances.


Short answer: yes, absolutely!

I'm in chemistry, but I have participated in a few physics searches. It's customary to include a letter for many of the reasons given in other answers. We want to know that you've taken the time to consider our department specifically and given some thought to how you'd fit, collaborators, etc. Otherwise with a generic cover letter, there's a nagging feeling that the candidate is either:

  1. Blindly sending out masses of applications.
  2. Applying to you, but your department is very low on their priority list.

Neither is a good first impression.

More importantly, I think is that it would look very strange to not have a cover letter.

I have been on roughly a dozen searches, each with at least 80-100 candidates each. I cannot recall someone who didn't include at least a short cover letter.

It really only needs to be 2-3 paragraphs, with maybe a few sentences on the specific department.

I can sympathize that it's yet another hoop to jump through in the application process. But I strongly recommend including one, if only because you don't want to leave an odd impression when we get to your file.

Good luck!


A cover letter can be your key to open you the door to that interview.

If you are very interested on that position, you should invest some time on doing your homework. Check the research group (each member) website and recent publications. Try to find out something you find interesting, and try to connect it with something you did, like your master's project or something like that.

Proactive candidates are always more interesting, so you could try to propose something you would like to try, about something they already did, or something you are curious about... For example, "I found those experiments on the paper XXX very interesting... did you try to reproduce them at different temperatures to observe the effect of... ?".

You can use the cover letter to explain why they should hire you specifically, or as a very short sample of what they will get if they hire you :)



Because, Let's imagine: Commonly understood practice in a field is to submit a CV, cover letter, research statement, teaching statement, and writing sample. However, the call for the position failed to list or make it optional to submit one of these items in the announcement and you did not submit what was not required to submit. However, there will always be another candidate who is also fighting to take this position. Someone who is fighting strongly to grab this job will submit all the required, optional, and unasked documents (in your case, a cover letter which is not asked but generally expected). So, the person who submits all the documents will be able to communicate more skills and knowledge (given everyone is submitting their best version of documents) compared to one who does not. That will put the candidate in a better position because the hiring committee does not have enough time to search about you to infer your qualities from materials that are not submitted. That puts you in a less advantageous position. I hope this is helpful.

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