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A good application, whether a CV and cover letter or an application form, is critical in getting to the interview stage. Our CVs & Applications books are packed full of examples, so whether you’re preparing for the annual graduate recruitment cycle, or an academic researcher looking for your first lectureship position, you’ll find something inside to help you.

Written by Careers Consultants at the Cambridge University Careers Service - pick up a free copy or download the book below.

resource_cvbook_undergrad_0.png

CVs & Applications for Undergraduates and Masters students

CVs and Applications for Undergraduates and Masters

Resource_cvbook_mphilpdoc_0.png.

CVs & Cover Letters for PhDs and Postdocs

CVs and Cover Letters for PhDs and Postdocs

Short_cv_guide_for_web.jpg.

cambridge university cover letter

Short CV Guide - Quick application help

NB: These books are designed to help you to write CVs for use in the UK. The style and content of your CV may need to be very different for use in other countries. GoinGlobal gives information on international careers, including CVs for different countries.

Check and improve your CV

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CareerSet

CareerSet is an online CV optimisation platform, which enables you to submit your CV 24/7 and receive an instant overall score plus suggestions for improvement. You can also upload a job description and see how well your CV matches. Read our  Getting Started Guide  for a quick introduction to the software.

You're still very welcome to discuss your CV with one of our Careers Consultants but you might like to use CareerSet first for some initial feedback, or just to do a final check. Login to CareerSet

Note that CareerSet is  not configured for academic CVs, so we'd suggest using the CV guide above and booking an appointment to talk to an adviser about  your academic CV. 

Careers Essentials

As part of our Careers Essentials - Getting Recruitment Ready series, we have put together two videos which cover how a CV is used to make decisions, types of CV, and how to bring all your information together.

Part 1: Getting Started

Part 2: Tailoring for an opportunity

Write the perfect Cover Letter (Five mins)

Write the perfect CV 

Read our blog to get inspiration about your career choices. It brings together news, opinions, advice, and perspectives from Cambridge students and graduates.

Use Handshake - join today to explore career options, book an appointment, find jobs and internships, connect with employers, and enhance your network.

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cambridge university cover letter

Sample cover letter for Internship position at University of Cambridge

Got the job yes.

Reading any newspaper or watching TV are things we usually do everyday. And because of that we realise that economics is everywhere. Every decision, in one way or another, is driven by economics. I had many questions and increasingly sought my own answers by widening my areas of reading. Shortly afterwards, I developed an interest in economic literature my first being “The Undercover Economist”. From that point I enjoyed discovering many of the classic by authors such as Keynes and other leading lights. By 15 I was convinced that economics was the subject I wanted to study to a higher level.

I was moved by the idea of discovering how economics and welfare were related and by how economics could improve the living standards of every country. This is why I started to read manuals about economic growth and economic development. Studying the manual from Daron Acemoglu, “Introduction to Modern Economic Growth” gave me a broader perspective on how income, welfare, development etc. were related. Over the last couple of years I have been very active in widening my knowledge, making contacts and developing my ideas. A. It’s a forum for international economics, and I blog about inequality, poverty, international trade, austerity etc.  I continue to enjoy developing my knowledge of economic theory, and have been involved in a number of research projects. Lately I have been concentrating on the liquidity trap and its relation with the Pigou Effect. I have also investigated the role of multinational firms in non developed countries, the structure of international trade, and the consequences of fiscal consolidation. I have a SSRN page where I upload all my work. In summer 2012 I started to contribute to a blog by teenagers living in the UK with my own opinions. We are working effectively as a team which is very gratifying. Finally, I am contributing to “El País Online Edition”, the leading newspaper in Spain, on issues of economic development and international affairs. .Academically I am confident that I’ve developed effective ways of learning that work for me. I well recall having a shock around the age of 13 when my results took a deep. I analysed what was going wrong, took advice, and developed learning strategies, that soon bore fruit. I also appreciate that study is about true learning and fulfillment, rather than solely results

In my spare time I enjoy watching TV Shows in their original version, reading fiction etc. I have also made a conscious effort to develop my english given my wish to study at a British University. I feel that my level is now appropriate to obtain the benefits from such a course. I also enjoy chess, and I when I was younger I won a few championships in Madrid.

By studying in the UK I would like to extend my economics knowledge, I would like to have the chance of researching in a really interesting environment. I believe I will develop a bigger set of skills from the study of economics at university. I think that, with the skills I will obtain there, I would have more chances to understand the world and all of its perspectives. I know this is the right course for me and I am totally committed to it. I am confident, therefore, that I will contribute much to the course and ensure that I take advantage of what will be a great opportunity for me. 

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How to Write a Cover Letter for Academic Jobs

cover letter for academic jobs

The purpose of your cover letter

The power of the cover letter in making an effective job application should never be underestimated. A good cover letter will grab the employer’s attention and make them want to read your CV. The purpose of your cover letter and CV together is to whet the employer’s appetite, to establish you as a serious contender for the post and to persuade the recruiter that you are worth an interview.

The cover letter exists to:

  • Demonstrate your enthusiasm for the post, based on the research you have done about the role and the institution
  • Explain your rationale for applying and how the role fits with your career plans
  • Answer the question “Why should we hire you?” by demonstrating how you meet the key criteria for the post and what sets you apart from other candidates
  • Provide evidence of your written communication and language skills, including the ability to be clear, succinct and articulate. This is especially important for teaching roles as the ability to communicate the nature and impact of your academic work to a non-academic audience is crucial.

This article focuses on cover letters for roles in Academia and addresses:

When to send a cover letter

  • What format to use
  • How to tailor it to a particular role
  • Marketing yourself in the cover letter
  • The dos and don’ts of cover letter writing
  • An example ‘before’ and ‘after’ cover letter with detailed explanations of the improvements made
  • A checklist for you to ensure your cover letter is as effective as possible.

You should always send a cover letter with your CV unless you are expressly asked not to. The only exception is if you are posting your CV on a database/with an agency where it will be seen by numerous employers, in which case a Profile on the CV itself is helpful.

Even if you have explained your motivation for applying on the application form, it is still worth sending a separate cover letter. This is because the cover letter gives you another opportunity to market yourself and can strengthen your chances.

The format of a cover letter

For jobs in academia, the length of the cover letter will depend on the seniority of the post. In any event, you should ensure the letter is no longer than two pages; one and a half pages is better still. In order to make an impact, and to prove that you can explain ideas fluently and clearly, the letter needs to be succinct. This is not the place to give in-depth detail about your research and academic interests; remember that the letter may be read by non-academics too, such as staff from Human Resources. You can always give further details of your academic and research activities on your CV or in an Appendix to your CV.

Keep paragraphs short and your typeface clear (a font size of 11 or 12 is recommended) as the employer’s attention span will be brief.

It is traditional to write the cover letter in paragraph format, and this is the format we have used for our example letter, although some candidates choose to use bullet points and/or bold to highlight key points.

The order of paragraphs is not critical, but the following is recommended:

  • Address and salutation: Address the letter to a named person i.e. the Head of Department.
  • First paragraph: An introduction, explaining which post you are applying for, how you heard about it, and some brief background on who you are e.g. in terms of your research interests and academic background.
  • Middle section: Evidence of your academic career in terms of your research interests and achievements as well as teaching and administrative experience. Also mention your future research plans. The balance between research, teaching and administration will depend on the nature of the institution and department’s work.
  • Final section: Explain what attracts you to this role in this institution and department and how the role fits in to your career plans.
  • Concluding paragraph: A conclusion summarising what makes you suitable for the job and a statement expressing interest in an interview.

Tailoring your letter

The best way to tailor your letter effectively is to:

Do your research

Your cover letter needs to show what a great match you are for the job. The job and person specification will only give you so much. In order to understand the job context, how your own research interests will fit into the department’s academic offering, what the recruiters are really looking for and how the department and job might develop in future you need to make your own enquiries.

This could include:

Online research

For example: into the University and Department’s academic programmes, it’s research and student profile, the research interests of key staff and so on. There is much information available publicly (for example, the institution’s and department’s external websites, the department’s latest research ranking, academic forums and even Good University Guides). For external  appointments, you may be limited to what is available publicly so do use your networks to access these.

Discussion with the Head of Department

Most recruiters are only too happy to answer questions about the job from potential applicants beforehand. This can also help you get your ‘name in the frame’ early. Just ensure that your  questions are well researched and be warned that the conversation might turn into an informal interview. You should reflect on why the department should hire you, and refine your ‘elevator pitch’ before arranging the call.

Conversations with other academics in the department and institution

You can also speak to people who previously worked there, who have worked with key staff in the department at some point in their career, as well as support staff. This will give you a better idea of the culture of the institution and the work of the department. For internal roles, you can use your internal networks to find these people. For external roles, you might ask the Head of  Department to put you in touch with other staff – or use your networks to see who knows someone in the right department and institution.

The depth of your research will show in your application and can really distinguish serious applicants from the rest of the pack. It’s also great preparation for the interview stage.

Be selective

The best way to tailor your letter is to pick out only the top three or four criteria for the post and focus your evidence on these. If the employer is convinced you have the right credentials,  experience and skills for the areas that matter most, the chances are that they will invite you to interview. Your CV and your interview can cover the rest.

Remember to include your skills outside research

Whilst the focus of your cover letter may be about communicating the relevance and depth of your academic experience, don’t forget to give evidence of those softer skills which may also be relevant to the job. These are likely to be outlined in the person specification and may include supervising PhD students, writing funding bids, managing other staff and project planning.

Marketing yourself effectively

Before you write your letter, you need to be clear on what your Unique Selling Points are for the role in relation to the key job criteria.

Think about what will differentiate you from the competition. Consider who else might apply, internally and externally, and what they might offer. Consider what makes you stand out from them. This might include:

  • Greater depth of expertise in this field or a higher research profile than other likely applicants
  • A particular blend of experiences which give you a unique perspective (e.g. international experience, having worked in both academia and industry, or having held posts in more than one academic discipline)
  • Specific achievements in your current and previous roles
  • A passion for and commitment to this area of research or working for this institution (e.g. perhaps you completed your PhD there)
  • Well developed research or funding networks which could prove helpful in the job
  • Or anything else you think might make the stand out in a way which is relevant to the role.

Tips for success

  • Put your most convincing evidence first. You need to make an impact in the first few sentences. Talk about your current or most relevant job first
  • Focus on achievements in your current and previous roles rather than merely your responsibilities (publications, new courses developed, funding awards won and so on). Quantify these wherever possible
  • Illustrate your achievements with brief but specific examples, explaining why these are relevant to this role. You can refer the employer to the CV for more detail
  • Concentrate on the areas which differentiate you from the competition rather than the basic job criteria
  • Demonstrate how well you have researched the role and the job context when explaining your career motivation
  • Explain your rationale if you are seeking a career change or sideways move
  • Be succinct. Ask someone to go through it with you and edit out any wordy sentences and redundant words. Some academic institutions offer a confidential careers advice service to staff members through their University Careers Service
  • End on a note of enthusiasm and anticipation.
  • Try to summarise your CV or give too much detail – you need to be selective about the points that you highlight
  • Make unsubstantiated statements about relevant skills and experience without giving examples
  • Send the same or a similar letter to more than one employer. Never ‘cut and paste’ as employers will suspect a lack of research and career focus
  • Make generalised statements about why you want to work for the institution (e.g. referring to ‘a top 50 global institution’ or ‘a department with a high reputation’)
  • Use jargon specific to your employer or profession which the employer might not understand
  • Focus on what the employer can do for you – it’s more about what you can do for the employer.

Example cover letter – with comments

cambridge university cover letter

Example cover letter – improved version

cambridge university cover letter

Cover letter checklist

Before you send off your letter, use our final checklist to ensure your letter is as strong as possible.

  • Done your homework so that you are clear about what the employer wants?
  • Given clear evidence of how you meet the most important criteria of the job?
  • Kept it to two pages or less?
  • Put your most important evidence in the first half of the letter?
  • Explained your academic interests clearly in a way that non-academics could understand?
  • Asked a friend to proof read it and ensure the language is succinct and clear?
  • Addressed it to the right person?
  • Given a convincing explanation of why you want the job?
  • Ended with a summary of why you would be perfect for this role?

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Lisa Carr is a careers consultant and coach who works with a range of public and private organisations including the University of Warwick and Warwick Business School, where she coaches Executive MBAs. She began her career as an HR manager in the energy industry and spent a number of years lecturing for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. After qualifying as a Careers Guidance practitioner she has worked with a wide range of clients from undergraduates through to senior academics and company directors.

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Templates available

There are a number of different templates available that you can use to produce a variety of correctly branded documents. These include:

  • Report covers
  • Posters (including research poster)
  • Presentations
  • Publications

Department templates

A pack of stationery templates is available for each Department that features their Department-specific logo. This pack contains:

  • Compliments slip
  • Meeting minutes

If your Department does not currently have a Departmental logo, or if the name of your Department has changed, please contact the Office of External Affairs and Communications.

How to download the templates

  • Locate the template that you require
  • Click on the link for that template and a file download box will open.
  • Select 'Save'
  • Go to the location where you have saved you template in order to open and edit it
  • Some templates, such as Departmental templates, will download as a zip file. They will need to be extracted before use.
  • To do this click 'extract all files' in the top left corner once you re-open the zip file.

In each zip file you will find the following templates with both a black & white and colour identifier: Agenda; Compliment slips; Letterheads and continuation; Memo cover page; Minutes; Logo only; Logo image file.

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To report any suspected unauthorised use of the University name or logo please email: [email protected]

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Cover Letters

A cover letter introduces and markets you effectively by complementing your CV.

A cover letter tells your story by highlighting your relevant strengths and motivation for the person and organisation you are writing to, rather than listing all the things that can already be seen on your CV.

Always take the opportunity to submit a cover letter if you are given the chance.

The cover letter gives you scope to showcase what interests and drives you, and your enthusiasm for an organisation and the role. You can use it to align yourself with the organisation’s strengths, values and culture, and highlight in a targeted way your knowledge and strongest, most relevant skills for the position.

The content and style are up to you, but a logical and engaging structure is key. Below are some guidelines.

How to Write Cover Letters

Aim for a professional tone that conveys your message to the reader succinctly - remember it's not an essay or dissertation! Write in clear, concise English – take care not to drown the reader with your detail and avoid jargon they may not understand.  The Plain English Campaign  has some good guidance on improving your writing style.

Structure it like a business letter, brevity adds power and aim for no longer than 1 side of A4 in length. However, if the organisation gives you very specific instructions about the structure. length and content, follow their guidance. 

Introduction

Introduce yourself and explain why you are writing. If you are responding to an advertisement, state where you saw it. This tells the recruiter why they are reading the letter, and it gives them feedback on which of their advertising sources are working. You need to think about how you would like to introduce yourself; it could be that you mention the course you are studying and when you plan to finish it along with your place of study.

Why this job?

Explain why you are interested in the job and the organisation. Tailor the letter to the organisation and job description to make it clear that you haven't sent out multiple copies of the same letter to different employers. 

Draw on your research, especially what you have learnt from speaking with their staff (e.g. while meeting them at a fair or event, or during work shadowing/experience) as this will demonstrate an awareness and understanding of them that goes beyond the corporate website. Be specific about why the position is particularly attractive for you, and back this up with evidence from your past, or by linking this to your overall career plans, and what you find exciting about this sector, don’t just repeat the text from their publicity material.

Explain why you are well-suited to the position. Refer to the most relevant skills (c.3-5), experience and knowledge you have and match what you say to the requirements outlined in the job description. Tell your story and highlight key evidence so that you are building on your CV, but not using exactly the same phrases. Make sure you read our guidance on  demonstrating you fit the job criteria  for more advice.

As your aim is to convince the recruiter that you are a suitable candidate for the job,  focus on your accomplishments and the transferable skills that are relevant to the role. State explicitly how you match the job criteria – don’t expect the person reading your letter to infer your skills or experiences for themselves. 

Support your claims by referring to examples that are already detailed in your CV. You can make a stronger, more credible case by linking different experiences that highlight similar skills or competences. For example:

  • You first demonstrated your organisational skills by creating (an event) at school, and you  have developed them further by raising (£xx) at last year’s fundraiser and, most recently, by leading (another event) for your society attended by (number) of people.
  • The role (applied for) would allow you to further explore your interest in mental health well-being  which has driven your success as college welfare officer and the personal sense of achievement gained from working as a peer counsellor.

Reiterate your desire to join the organisation and end on a ‘look forward to hearing from you’ statement, followed by ‘Yours sincerely’ if writing to a named individual and ‘Yours faithfully’ if you have not been able to find a named contact. 

  • Write to a named person if you can
  • If you have not been able to find a named contact, you could use ‘Dear Recruitment Manager’ or ‘Dear Recruiter’. 
  • Check your spelling and get someone else to read it over.
  • Check that it says clearly what you want it to say.  Are there any sections that are hard to read, overly long sentences? If yes, try to simplify the language, avoid jargon, use shorter sentences or take out that section completely.
  • Make the letter different each time. If you insert another company name, does the letter still read the same? If so, tailor it more specifically to the firm - you may need to do further research
  • Don’t start every sentence with “I”.
  • Give evidence for all your claims.
  • Be enthusiastic and interested.
  • Don’t repeat your whole CV.
  • It’s normal to find cover letters tricky to write. Give yourself plenty of time before the application deadline to redraft.
  • A careers adviser at the Careers Service can give you feedback on the content and structure of your cover letter and CV, and advise you on how best to target particular sectors – write one first, book an appointment on CareerConnect  and ask a careers adviser for feedback.

Academic Cover Letters and Statements

Academic cover letters.

Academic cover letters vary in length, purpose, content and tone. Each job application requires a new, distinct letter.

For applications that require additional research or teaching statements, there is no point repeating these points in a cover letter – here, one page is enough (brief personal introduction, delighted to apply, please find enclosed X, Y, Z documents).

Other applications ask for a CV and a cover letter only, in which case the letter will need to be longer and require more detail. Others ask explicitly for this detail in the form of a supporting statement that sets out how you fulfil the job criteria. Aim for a maximum length of two pages, though for roles at associate professor level and above it may extend to 3-5 pages. In all cases it is important to use the space effectively and show that you can prioritise according to what they are looking for.

In all cases:

  • Your letter is a piece of academic writing – you need a strong argument and empirical evidence
  • Write for the non-expert to prove that you can communicate well
  • Make sure you sound confident by using a tone that is collegial (rather than like a junior talking to a senior)
  • Demonstrate your insight into what the recruiting department is doing in areas of research and teaching, and say what you would bring to these areas from your work so far.
  • Give quantifiable evidence of teaching, research and funding success where possible.

Teaching Statements

What is a teaching statement and why do you need one.

When making an academic job application, you may be asked for a teaching statement (sometimes referred to as a ‘philosophy of teaching statement’). These statements may also be requested of candidates for grant applications or teaching awards.

A teaching statement is a narrative that describes:

  • How you teach
  • Why you teach the way you do
  • How you know if you are an effective teacher, and how you know that your students are learning.

The rationale behind a teaching statement is to:

  • Demonstrate that you have been reflective and purposeful about your teaching. This means showing an understanding of the teaching process and your experience of this
  • Communicate your goals as an instructor, and your corresponding actions in the laboratory, classroom, or other teaching setting.

Format and style of a Teaching Statement

There is no required content or format for a teaching statement because they are personal in nature, but they are generally 1-2 pages, and written in the first person. The statement will include teaching strategies and methods to help readers ‘see’ you in a lab, lecture hall, or other teaching setting. The teaching statement is, in essence, a writing sample, and should be written with the audience in mind (i.e. the search committee for the institution(s) to which you are applying). This means that, like a cover letter, your teaching statement should be tailored for presentation to different audiences.

Articulating your teaching philosophy

Consider your experiences as both teacher and learner, and always keep your subject at the forefront. Consider all opportunities that you have previously had to teach, mentor, or guide, and determine instances that were both successful and perhaps not so successful. Understanding why and how learning happens is an important part of your teaching philosophy.

Here are some general areas to focus on in your teaching statement:

Goals : Convey your teaching goals. What would you like students to get out of your courses? What matters most to you in teaching and why?

Strategies : List effective teaching strategies. How will you realise your goals? What obstacles exist to student learning and how do you help students overcome them?

Evidence : Specific examples of your teaching experience are powerful in a teaching statement. Provide evidence that your students have learned (or not) in the past.

Research Statements

Some applications ask for a short research statement. This is your opportunity to showcase your vision for your research, propose a research plan and show how this builds on your current expertise and achievements. It forms the basis for discussions and your presentation if you are invited for interview.

Remember to:

  • Provide a big picture overview of your research vision
  • Make sure there are clear links between your proposal and the work of the recruiting institution.  Each statement must be tailored to the particular role you are applying for
  • Write about your research experience stating the aims, achievements, relevant techniques and your responsibilities for each project
  • Write as much (within the word limit) about your planned research and its contribution to the department, and to society more broadly
  • Invest time and ask for feedback from your supervisor/principal investigator or colleagues.

Tips for Junior Research Fellowship or JRF Applications

Read the job description carefully to understand what is prioritised by the recruiting College or institution(s) beyond furthering your research.  If there are additional responsibilities such as outreach, mentoring, expanding or fostering academic networks, you will need to provide evidence of your interest and experience in these areas, as well as statements about how you would fulfil these roles when in post.

Try to meet current junior research fellowship (JRF) holders to gain further insight into what the role entails on a daily basis and what is expected by senior colleagues.

Show how your research contributes to, extends and/or maximises the impact of other work going on in the university. Then state why the JRF would enable you to further these in specific ways.

Think about how to demonstrate your experience in the following areas:

  • Your research vision.  Can you outline a big picture view of the research you want to do and its impact, for the department, the field and the wider society
  • Publications, think broadly here and include journal articles, book chapters, policy papers, expert reviews, public commentaries and any other type of media coverage
  • Funding, give prominence to any funding awards and to your grant-writing experience
  • Participation in professional activities such as establishing collaborations with people or organisations outside the university, reviewing journal articles and membership of relevant societies
  • Outline how you intend to participate in knowledge exchange and public engagement within your fellowship. These activities are now recognised as significant components of academic life

Look at  Vitae’s Research Developer Framework  to identify any other academic-related competencies that you could demonstrate in your application (particularly project-management, leadership, developing innovative partnerships/strategic thinking).

Have your application reviewed by a careers adviser by booking a short discussion appointment on CareerConnect . 

Our Resources

Example cover letters.

  • Sample cover letter
  • Sample cover letter for management consultancy
  • Sample cover letter for voluntary organisation
  • Sample speculative cover letter   (see speculative applications)
  • Sample cover letter for first lectureship, Arts and Humanities
  • Vitae  for examples and advice relating to academic cover letters

Related pages

  • Demonstrate You Fit the Job Criteria
  • Application Forms

External Resources

External websites with guidance and examples.

  • TARGETjobs: Cover letter essentials
  • Prospects: Cover Letters

Artificial Intelligence (AI) generators and other paid-for services

A growing number of websites offer AI-generated cover letters, either for free or for a fee. There are also numerous organisations offering to write your cover letters for a fee. We believe that if you follow the advice above and come for a (free) cover letter review at the Careers Service as part of a 20-minute 1:1 appointment, you will get the best service for you. 

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