You’ve spent hours putting together the perfect resume for that online instructor position. Not a typo in sight. Impeccable grammar. Flawless formatting. Abundant achievements. Whew!
After this grueling task, it’s tempting to dash off your cover letter (or email) as an afterthought - but resist. This document is where many hiring managers decide whether to read your resume and invite you to interview.
Who Are You, Anyway?
We know the online teaching labor market is competitive. Most HR departments have a staff member filter out unqualified applicants, so if your application gets to the decision maker you want to be sure they see you’re a great match.
Your cover letter is your personality on paper. In this era of behavioral interviewing, hiring staff are looking for cues to what type of employee you’ll be, how you’ll behave in specific work situations. This is one reason typos are so damaging to an application; they say that your attention to detail is lacking.
Beyond avoiding the basic gaffes, your cover letter should be a well-written, succinct narrative of your professional accomplishments as they relate to the position and the institution’s goals. Using the same cover letter for all positions? Stop immediately. Each position needs its own customized cover letter and resume.
Showing Your Strengths
So what exactly goes into a cover letter? Don’t make the mistake of summarizing or – gasp! – repeating your resume. You should provide additional information the reviewer can use to judge your suitability for the job and that gives a sense of who you are.
There’s a saying in marketing: Show, don’t tell. Anyone can say they’re a team player, motivated and ambitious. A much better strategy is to show how these qualities spring into action when you’re faced with a challenge. This is why case studies are so effective at demonstrating how an organization worked through a specific problem and succeeded.
Consider this typical cover letter statement:
I’m a motivated, ambitious team player who gives 110% to any job I’m given.
What does this tell us about the applicant? Mostly that they rely on generalized, clichéd phrases that say nothing authentic. Another saying in marketing is that if the opposite is true, then don’t say it. Would you ever write “I’m a lazy loner who gives 70% to jobs I’m forced to do”?
Instead of a vague, jargon-y statement, describe an instance where you produced a measurable result:
As an instructor at , I received the 2015 Adjunct of the Year award for highest student evaluations and overall grade improvement – a mean of 11 points over last year’s course. This success was attributed to my active teaching style and community building strategies.
If you’re not an award winner (yet), try something like this:
As an online instructor, I strive to build instructor presence to create a nurturing student community. One of the most successful strategies I’ve used is weekly video welcomes. View one of my most recent here
Showing your skills in your cover letter will also help when you land the interview. Situational interview questions are a popular strategy now. Describing a professional challenge and showing how you added value to the company is a sure way to authentically impress interviewers.
Do Your Homework
Once you’ve shown how you can contribute to the organization, connect your skills to align with the mission and values of the university. This information is easy to find on the university website. Also seek out articles on the school in the trade press, i.e, The Chronicle of Higher Education. Even a simple Google search will reveal some insight into the institution’s goals.
For example, at Philadelphia University we’re focused on professional education and innovation. Active, collaborative learning and cross-disciplinary teaching methods help prepare our students for real-world applications of knowledge. If you’re applying for a position with us, I’d like to see that you’re aware of our pedagogical style. You’ll certainly get an interview if you show me how you’ve used collaborative learning in your classes. This tells me you’ve done your homework and taken the time to research the university. It gives an insight into the type of employee you’ll be.
Years ago when I was in the travel business I applied for a job with a major cruise line. They were rapidly expanding their fleet to add seven ships in three years. I read their brochures (pre-internet!) and saw their tagline - A Tradition of Excellence – everywhere. My cover letter included a comment on their impressive growth and ended with how I looked forward to contributing to their tradition of excellence. I got the interview. And the job.
It’s Not About You
Finally, remember that your cover letter describes your skills and aligns them with the position, but it’s actually not about you. It’s about how your talents can help the institution grow and help their students succeed. What value will you add? A compelling cover letter that tells that story will get you the interview.
Like to see an example? Take a look at this excellent before-and-after cover letter revamp.
Good luck in your search!
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About the Author
Mary Beth Kurilko M.Ed, BA
As the Director of Online Programs at Philadelphia University, I provide vision, leadership, direction, and expertise in support of faculty design, delivery and evaluation of technology-enhanced instructional materials.
I'm also an enthusiastic and energetic communications instructor, specializing in emerging media and writing for the web.
My strength is taking the fear out of scary things - technology, social media, writing, public speaking - with humor, verve, and elan. Okay, that's what someone else said about me, but the humor part is true.