Hunting the Smaller Jungle: Tips and Tricks for your Cover Letter and Résumé

By now, you’ve found the teaching positions you’re interested in. You have included on your résumé all your experiences that would make you an excellent candidate. The question is, how can you format your credentials to make the best possible first impression?

Many applicants do not take the time to personalize their cover letters and résumés—big mistake. This is often your only communication with a search committee, and every detail is scrutinized (at least, it is a good practice to pretend like every detail will be scrutinized—it will make you a more critical editor). Here are some helpful formatting and style tips for you:

  • Maintain consistency throughout documents.

What I mean to say here is, if you are putting your name, address, and contact information at the top of your resume, you should also put this same header, with the same font and size on each supporting document you send. Not only does this present a well-polished, consistent group of documents, it also helps in preventing some of your documents from getting “misplaced” along the way. If a search committee is reviewing 200 applicants, and your resume has your contact information but your Teaching Statement does not, it is easy to be missed in a stack of loose, unidentified supporting papers. I have included my own personalized header as an example below:

  • Use bullet points

Bullet points are far easier for your committee to quickly look through to get a general overview of your experiences and qualifications. (See how well it works here?) This means that they do not need to spend twenty minutes reading through multiple paragraphs describing every aspect of your experience. While you want them to spend time on your résumé, you do not want that time trying to get to the core of your experiences. It’s best to use 3–4 bullet points per position, detailing specific responsibilities you held. If they need additional information, they will ask for it.

  • Do not write “References: Available Upon Request”

This just looks lazy on your part. I hate to be so direct, but it’s true. The committee shouldn’t have to request your references from you. If they are good references, including their names and contact information will increase your chances of obtaining the position. Some positions do not require that you submit letters of recommendation; however, it is still good to provide them with the contact information, so that should they decide to pursue your candidacy further, it is easy to find your referees. Also, it helps to provide your relation to the reference if it is immediately unclear from their title.

  • Be aware of word choices in cover letters that indicates inexperience.

Avoid using phrases such as “looking forward to new experiences” or anything that highlights to them that you are inexperienced. Focus on experiences you have already had that contribute to your qualifications as an applicant.

  • Avoid language that carries negative connotations.

This means you shouldn’t mention how you are better than any other potential candidates—even if you are. Avoid highlighting how you have experiences and skills that others may lack. For one, you can’t be sure that the other applicants don’t share your skills, and besides, it’s best to let your experiences and positive attitude do the comparisons for you.

In my next post, I will discuss what to do during the waiting period after you have submitted an application.

Please leave any comments and questions you may have for me!


3 comments on “Hunting the Smaller Jungle: Tips and Tricks for your Cover Letter and Résumé

  1. Shane Zimmer says:

    Thanks for these posts, Sabrina. I was wondering if you’ve been able to gauge what the competition level is like for teaching positions at CC’s. Or, have you been able to feel out salary ranges? Maybe it’s too early in your search to have specifics. Just curious.

  2. Shane,

    While it’s still early in the game so to speak, I can tell you that typically CC positions receive anywhere from 100-400 applicants!

    As far as salary ranges are concerned, the average has been between 40k-60k a year, with some schools listing salary caps at 80k-90k after reaching a certain tier on their earnings scale (you can assume this is after being awarded tenure). There are of course some positions out there that start out around 37-38k, but these are typically in areas which have lower costs of living in general.

    Hope that helps!

  3. Shane Zimmer says:

    Thank you, Sabrina. Those details are very helpful. I’ll be keeping them in mind for the future.

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