4

I'm a postdoc in computer science preparing an application for a tenure-track full-time faculty position in a US university. The opinions on whether to use a letterhead or not vary: Postdoc using current university's letterhead for job application cover letter (academic/national lab jobs)?, Should I use my university's letterhead for a cover letter for a job application?, Letterhead ethics, The Professor Is In: Why Letterhead Matters.

Which choice is prevalent or advisable for the position in question: with or without letterhead?

  • 4
    Given the huge number of applications to faculty positions, hiring committees need a random way of eliminating half the applications, since reading applications takes much time and the best application in 250 will be almost as good as the best in 500. At the same time, university rules generally prohibit explicitly using random factors. Hence, hiring committees either discard all applications on letterhead or discard all applications not on letterhead without letting applicants know which. Hiring committees desiring to quarter their applications also sort based on staples vs. paperclips. – Alexander Woo Sep 3 '17 at 17:42
  • 9
    Good luck with your applications. It is understandable that you wish to maximize your chances and are therefore trying to optimize every little thing about your application, but you would be well advised to spend your time where it actually matters (hint: the letterhead is not it, neither is the cover letter). – Dan Romik Sep 3 '17 at 18:12
  • 4
    hiring committees need a random way of eliminating half the applications — [citation needed] This doesn't fit my experience on hiring committees at all. – JeffE Sep 3 '17 at 20:00
  • 2
    @Axel it certainly often feels random to the unsuccessful candidates. FYI: the unwritten rule where I work is that submissions without affiliations immediately draw less attention than those with clear affiliation. – user67075 Sep 3 '17 at 20:36
  • 2
    @JeffE I thought the paperclips and staples would make it clear. Though I admit maybe I was a little cruel to stressed-out job applicants. – Alexander Woo Sep 3 '17 at 21:10
12

I've served for 15 years on my (top-5 US computer science) department's faculty recruiting committee, including three as committee chair.

At least in my department, whether your cover letter uses letterhead Does. Not. Matter. Really. The hiring committee is looking at the information in your application; formatting is at best a secondary concern. Most committee members will never even read your cover letter, because all the relevant information is repeated elsewhere: In your CV, your research and teaching statements, your web page, your DBLP profile, your Google Scholar profile, and especially your recommendation letters. I did read cover letters as committee chair, but only because that made it slightly easier to classify applications into our target research areas.

As a sanity check, I just went through a random sample of the candidates that my committee rated highly in last year's faculty search. About half of their cover letters were on institutional letterhead.

3
+25

I evaluate resumes / cover letters for permanent research positions outside of universities, so perhaps a little different than the target audience, but maybe there is some overlap.

Regarding letterhead, here are my thoughts:

  • The letterhead or lack thereof is far less important than whether the letter is well written. 50% of the letters I receive (and these are just the ones that are good enough to reach my desk!) contain many obvious mistakes and/or seem to be written by someone with rather poor English skills. Another 25% might not contain outright mistakes, but are noticeably poorly written (organization, paragraph structure, etc.). It amazes me that people are willing to submit such poor materials while asking for a job. So, 75% of the time, the letter actually hurts the candidate!
  • When I see university letterhead, I always check the resume to see the person's position before reading the letter. In my experience, many letterhead-users are instructors or administrators rather than researchers (which is not a disqualification, but I like to know). I'll also check the university -- if I've heard of the university, the letterhead might make my ears perk up; if not, I'll reserve judgment until I finish my evaluation.
  • If the letter is well-written, the person has a research background, and the letterhead is from a well-established university, then the use of letterhead is a net positive. This shows me that the person took the time to add that nice touch, and produced a very nice-looking document in addition to their technical qualifications.
  • If the letter is poorly written or the person doesn't seem to have a strong technical background, then the use of letterhead is a (tiny) net negative. This gives me the impression that the person does poor work but tries to dress it up nicely. If you are in this boat, you would be better off adding a lot of technical detail (with or without a letterhead).

So in summary: if you are otherwise a strong applicant, adding the letterhead is a nice touch; if you are a otherwise a weak applicant, adding the letterhead won't save you and might even hurt.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy