You’ve been through vet school, you’ve done post-graduate work (either a Ph.D. or an internship/residency), and now you are applying for a faculty job. First, congratulations, this is one of the best, most rewarding jobs I can possibly imagine. Second, realize that this situation is entirely different from any you have encountered before.
For vet school and post-grad, the stakes are high- many applicants, few positions. For faculty positions, particularly clinical positions, the exact reverse applies. Few applicants, many positions in most disciplines. As a result, your letter does not need to make you stand out as much as your previous letters of application. It can be more staid and you don’t need to “shine” as much. You will be in an applicant pool of probably less than half a dozen. They will read each application thoroughly and know your name, CV highlights, and other characteristics. The job of the faculty application letter is to get you an interview, not to get you the actual job.
As always, you should avoid the common mistakes made by all applicants in their letters. One caveat to that general list is that your letter may be two pages if necessary. Few applicants need two pages but, since there are fewer applicants, the one page limit is not a hard one for faculty applications.
The institution has a need, and your goal is to make them think you may be able to fill that need effectively. Again, you don’t have to hit it out of the park, you just need to pique their curiosity. You don’t need to bare your soul in your application. You should be genuine, but you don’t need to share every hope, dream, and aspiration you have for your career in this letter. Here are the things you should be up front about in your application letter if you feel strongly one way or another:
Clinical track vs. tenure track
If you don’t want to do a clinical track position, tell them know that in the application or call and talk to the contact in the advertisement. Even if they only have a clinical track position, if you’re the only candidate, or if you blow the rest out of the water, they may be willing to interview you and work something out. But if you get an interview on the premise of doing a clinical track position and then tell them you want a tenure track position, they may be irritated at spending the time and resources getting you for an interview if that is 100% not in the cards.
Research time vs. teaching and clinic time
Obviously there is always an expectation for research. For clinical positions, if you expect to be doing so much research you may need less teaching or clinic FTE, make this evident in your application. You don’t need to specify FTE % at this time- that comes at the negotiation. But if they need a hard core teacher and you are a hard core researcher, it’s best to figure that out at this point.
Everything else can come up during the interview or during the negotiation process. Early in my career, I applied for a faculty position and indicated in one part of my letter that I desired to pursue “some additional training”- possibly a non-traditional ACVECC residency. I didn’t get an interview. When I asked some colleagues why I didn’t get an interview, they pointed to that section of my letter. I was an otherwise excellent candidate, but they weren’t look for someone who wanted to expand their own clinical training, they wanted someone who would fill their need, which was for a full-time clinical anesthesiologist.
In retrospect, if I had really wanted that position, I should have kept my desire for some additional training to myself and figured out how to make it work after starting the job. As it turned out, I stayed at my institution and finished two Masters degrees with the institution’s support and blessing. I probably could have done the same or similar at the other institution. I could have worked there for a while and gained their trust and understanding. They would have understood that it would not impact my primary work responsibilities. But from just looking at my letter, and comparing it to other letters, they thought, “Well, this applicant seems to want something other than what this job is. So no interview for him.”
Your goal with the letter is to tell them what interests you about the position, that you would be a viable candidate, that if given an interview and an offer you would accept both, and that you can fill their need. Don’t gush, keep it simple, and show them you are competent and not a prima donna.