The great cover letter debate
March 21, 2010 8:28 PM   Subscribe

I am ready to pull out my hair!! What is the difference between a cover letter and a "Personal Qualifications Statement"? I feel as though I am merely going to be restating information. ( I am applying for a position as an adjunct instructor, and I have been asked to write both.)
posted by AlliKat75 to Work & Money (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I've never heard of a Personal Qualifications Statement, but did the request look something like this...?

"We ask that you provide a cover letter and personal qualifications statement."

Notice the lack of the word both. If so, they may have meant "cover letter and personal qualifications statement" to be one thing. Just a thought.
posted by axiom at 8:31 PM on March 21, 2010

I suggest contacting the search/hiring committee. They will clear things up. I never came across a "personal qualifications statement" request during my search for a job in academia. And I'm with you -- it sounds like the same thing as a cover letter.
posted by puritycontrol at 8:34 PM on March 21, 2010

If they're asking for two different documents, you could write a minimal cover letter and use the personal qualifications statement as an opportunity to explain at length why you're right for the job. The middle part of the cover letter (after the brief "Here's why I'm writing" and before the closing paragraph) could have some overlap with the PQS but more boiled down.

Axiom is right that you should make sure they weren't just trying to cross their t's and dot their i's by saying that you should send a cover letter and, oh yeah, it should certainly state your qualifications! But I have done applications (not in academia) that ask for a cover letter and a separate statement -- I don't find it unusual.
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:36 PM on March 21, 2010

Response by poster: They are definitely asking for two separate documents. The application process is online, and I am not able to move to the next section until the cover letter and qualifications statement are both uploaded. It is perplexing to me. But, I am happy to know that I am not the only person who has never heard of such a thing. Whew!!!
posted by AlliKat75 at 8:48 PM on March 21, 2010

I googled to see who'd be silly enough to ask for a cover letter and a PQS simultaneously - and darned if the only organizations I could find weren't in my fair (adopted) state of California.

I think puritycontrol and Jaltcoh have it: It's probably the case that they once only asked for cover letters and got fluff, and so they specifically asked for a separate document about education, experience and fit.

That said, calling HR is a great idea.

But if this was a university career counselor drinking game, and we had to guess 'cause the winner was getting a cocktail that resembled a liquored up fruit punch, I'd put even money in guessing that the benefit of a PQS is that you could include elements of a statement of teaching philosophy, and go into greater detail than a cover letter alone.....

So a cover letter could include a summary, 1-2 paragraphs:

1. " the description for X position with great interest...believe my academic training in Y, Z years of teaching and mentorship experience combined with my demonstrated commitment to working with A populations make me a strong candidate for this position.... " AND...

2. "this position is my top choice because...I enjoy B, C and D. I also wish to relocate/return to E community......thank you for your consideration of my application."

Then a PQS could include some of the same elements, but fleshed out in 4-6 paragraphs:

1. Summary

2. Academic Training

3, 4, 5. Professional Skills & Experience: (which could include) teaching/teacher training, curriculum development, populations you've taught/are familiar with, teaching philosophy, mentorship experience, university/college service, familiarity with the type of organization you are applying to, anything else you think is relevant..

6. Fit/Desire

Actually, I'd guess that if it was just straight up fruit punch as well, at the very least because it would be the information that the hiring committee would want to know. So the cover letter serves as a sort of abstract, and the PQS the fuller explanation.

Now I'm dying to know what the HR folks say, so if you find out, please come back and tell us!
posted by anitanita at 9:23 PM on March 21, 2010

Response by poster: I will definitely report back, once I speak to the HR people at this fine academic institution located in (you guessed right) California.

Thanks for the input everyone. I'll be back...
posted by AlliKat75 at 12:46 AM on March 22, 2010

PQS sounds an awful lot like a resume. Overkill much, CA? I just don't get the differentiation.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 4:16 AM on March 22, 2010

Some schools and colleges want a statement of teaching philosophy. It could be that they've just given that a new name.
posted by mareli at 7:36 AM on March 22, 2010

I've been encountering this recently, too, and probably more than in the past. (I'm applying for academic jobs.)

Here is a useful article on the personal statement. You shouldn't worry too much about repeating information from your CV, but here you are presenting it in a more 'narrative' form to show how the bunch of facts included on your CV add up to an excellent candidate for this job.

When a personal statement is not required, the covering letter assumes this narrative function; it makes for an over-long covering letter, but there you go. But when they are asking for a personal statement, I just reduce my covering letter to a minimum--just a polite "Please find enclosed my application for blahblahblah" and stating that I'd be happy to discuss my application further and would of course be available to come for an interview if shortlisted. Having been shortlisted for one of these jobs, I'm fairly sure that doing it this way is at least acceptable!

My applications are for academic jobs, as I say, but the same on-line forms (with the same space for 'personal statement') are used for the non-academic jobs at these institutions, and they tend to be on outsourced HR websites so I'm assuming they are also being used for other kinds of public and private-sector jobs. I suppose the idea is to keep all applications in a readily comparable format.

Good luck!
posted by lapsangsouchong at 7:50 AM on March 22, 2010

Response by poster: Having had a conversation with the HR peeps, it looks like, as usual, the Mefis knew their stuff. The PQS is meant to be a document that describes how one's academic background and previous teaching experience makes that individual best suited to the position. Though, why all this cannot be covered in one document, i.e., a cover letter, I have no idea. I guess Californians love paperwork.

Thank you for your help. I knew I could count on all of you. ...I'm off to write the PQS.
posted by AlliKat75 at 12:24 PM on March 22, 2010

Glad to hear it worked out.

In response to "Though, why all this cannot be covered in one document, i.e., a cover letter, I have no idea," I have an idea. They're not only concerned with the actual substance you're going to convey in the PQS. Otherwise, yes, they could just require the PQS. But requiring a cover letter allows them to test your basic ability to do fulfill a set of requirements in an appropriate, organized way. Similarly, you could say that in-person interviews are pointless because the same conversations could happen over the phone -- but interviews aren't just about conveying information, they're about observing you to see if you're a normal person. For instance, if you were to end your cover letter with "Sincerely" but no signature or name, that would be a good indication that you lack a basic sense of appropriateness. It wouldn't matter that they already knew your name from seeing it on the other documents.
posted by Jaltcoh at 2:24 PM on March 22, 2010

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