I’m at that point in my career where I don’t have one. I’m applying to jobs which means a lot of sifting through really bad HR pages for different schools, and I have the unique pleasure of looking almost exclusively for online schools because I plan on staying where I live now for a while longer. I’m also still applying to the university I work at now, and for that application, I’m devoting all my writerly energy to making all my materials really, really amazing. It’s going pretty well, so well that I decided to write a little guide for future teachers who are also writing their letters applying to universities. This post might seem like it would be boring for anyone who isn’t interesting in the non-stop party of academic bureaucratic documentation, but there’s something here for anyone who will have to write a formal letter telling someone else you want to be their devoted worker bee.
We begin with the salutation. I prefer the classic “Dear [whoever]” because I like to think everything that follows is actually a softly spoken serenade to someone laying in bed next to you. You look at that Composition Hiring Committee deep in their warm, reasonably-paying eyes, and you slowly woo them into believing you are their dear, dear future employee.
After the initial seduction, we move into the first paragraph, arguably the most important introduction you’ll ever write. It’s important to demonstrate some confidence here. You’re not a meek grad student anymore. You’re a confident, powerful prospective employee that has totally done real work before. You’re not relying on academia to keep you safe from the real world. You know you’d be fine if you didn’t get this job, but this is where you show that you know you don’t have to worry about not getting hired. You don’t have to think about your friend who finished the same graduate program a year ahead of you and still works at that art supply store. You don’t have to think about how much you could earn in tips. You don’t have to worry about anything because you’re about to drop some “I am” statements, and you’re gonna use the shit out of those professionally powerful verbs. Your work as an composition instructor didn’t just teach you how to make sure students knew what an argument was, it “effectively prepared you for the rigors of a professional teaching environment.” Don’t think about where you’d find a thick coat to survive winter. Think about how many coats you’ll be able to buy with that teacher check you know you deserve.
You’ve posed the argument that you’re a perfect candidate for the job, and now it’s time to back that shit up. Now it’s time to use that deep study you did of the minimum and preferred job requirements. You’ve read those lists over like they’re the online dating profile of someone you know is out of your league, and now it’s time to craft your first message. Take some time talking about how thoroughly you meet the minimum requirements of the job. Imagine a child just challenged you to a fight. The depth and vigor with which you explain all the reasons you would pummel that little upstart into oblivion should match the level of detail you use in describing just how completely you outmatch those minimum requirements.
And it’s not just talking about how you know all of this. You wouldn’t just tell the kid how good you are at tennis and hope he’d make the connection. You’d tell him that you have a backhand swing that could rip a hole in a gorilla. You take your experience and you show the hell out of how you can offer your skills to that position. Search committees are like children and you are a child’s cartoon. You don’t just tell them something, you point it out, show them what it means, and make sure there is no doubt that they know exactly what you can do.
What I’m about to say is true even if it isn’t: you meet more than the minimum qualifications. If you’re applying for a job, and you tell them you meet the bare minimum of what they’re looking for, then you will have advertised yourself as also being the bare minimum of what they’re looking for. A hiring committee doesn’t know how passionate or adaptable or good at making jokes in the elevator you are until you tell them, and it’s your job to communicate to them that you are more than the bare minimum. After you’ve run through how thoroughly you meet the minimum requirements and how you can offer all that skill to the position, it’s time to explain how you also meet the preferred requirements. Obviously this only works on things that cannot be entirely quantified. If the job requires a PhD, and the closest anyone has ever gotten to calling you doctor is when you were wearing coincidentally wearing a white coat in a hospital, then you can’t really argue that you have one. This is for requirements of experience.
Whether you know it or not, you’ve done everything you’ll ever do already, it’s just a matter of communicating how the skills you demonstrated in other things match the skills and experience required by the job. So I’ve never taught 12 credits of composition courses at the same time, but I was a grad student while teaching 6, and that equates to half the direct credit value and about 80 other hours of work a week. I can show I was good at the job they need me to be good at, and I can also commit to a disgusting amount of work every day. Your job when you’re talking about meeting the preferred requirements is to show how everything you’ve done makes you a preferred candidate, and then you again show what you can do for the job because of that experience.
You’ve run through the minimum and preferred requirements. You’ve introduced yourself. Now, mop up any of the extra little things they’re looking for. If the job asks if you’ve ever taught collaborative work, then talk about what you did and what you’d do and why it’s awesome. That’s a thing I have to do, and I’m lucky enough that I can say I literally wrote my thesis on collaborative work my students did. You use every argument you can make to show why you’re going to be the most useful little wage-goblin they’ll ever find lurking in a cave.
Your final job is a conclusion, a little note about the same length as your introduction. This is where you remind them that, based on your unique experience, you’re a fantastic choice for the job. Conclude by telling them you look forward to or welcome or are happy to answer any further communications. Then write your name at the bottom because it’s always important to remind them who you are because, if they’re anything like me grading papers, they forgot which application you were by the second paragraph.